The Phoenix Suns have enjoyed a nice end to 2023, thanks in part to back-to-back wins that have quietened the noise that their season was coming apart at the seams. At 16-15 they are not only back above .500, but are now within striking distance of some of the teams ahead of them, such as the Los Angeles Lakers.
The return of Bradley Beal in the win over the Charlotte Hornets was an excellent next step in the franchise continuing their upward trajectory, even if he had a quiet scoring night by his standards. Still, this was a chance to see the Suns at nearly full strength, and it was also one of the few sightings we have seen so far of Beal playing alongside Devin Booker and Kevin Durant.
With things looking up for the Suns, now is the time to officially proclaim that Grayson Allen should be the fifth starter for this team going forward.
If you've watched the Suns so far this season, then this should come as no surprise to you. In fact it is likely Allen doesn't know any differently as well, because he has started all 26 games he has played for the team. In those games, he has put up career highs in points (13.2), assists (2.7) and even free-throw attempts (two per game).
It should also come as no surprise that the ridiculous 45.7 percent Allen is shooting from deep is not only a career high, but one of the best marks in the entire league. At 5.3 attempts per game, to keep up that kind of productivity - and with Beal missing for so long no less - has been remarkable and huge for the Suns.
The shooting alone is reason enough for Allen to be a starter, although there are drawbacks because it means he can't help what is already a thin bench unit quite as much. But if the Suns want to be a high-level offensive team - and really they've marketed themselves as this going back to before the season even started - then Allen's shooting is integral to making that happen.
Right now the Suns rank a somewhat disappointing 12th in offensive rating (116.5), although it is a number that is trending in the right direction. In their last two games - wins over the Hornets and Houston Rockets - the Suns actually have the best rating in the league in this category, at 135.1.
A tiny sample size, but interesting to point out because one of those games was played without Beal. When Allen is on the court, the Suns have a rating of 117.5, which would have them sniffing a top five spot if applied to the team as a whole. While the 3-point shooting is largely the reason for this, getting to the free-throw line more than ever before shows Allen is cutting and driving to the basket as well.
The clear and obvious reason why Allen should not start is because of what he brings on the defensive end, but that is no longer an open and shut case against him. Josh Okogie felt like a more natural fifth starter before the season began because he played for the team last year, is a better defender and can still knock down the occasional 3-pointer.
But even after beginning the campaign brightly, a combination of injury and the play of both Allen and Eric Gordon have challenged that way of thinking. We've also already seen what it looks like in the playoffs when Okogie is out there when it really matters, and the results are far from convincing. With a series on the line, you want Allen in the corner to make an open shot over both Okogie and Gordon.
Yet it was clear before the season even began that the Suns were going to lean into being a potentially historic offensive group, while on the other end they were going to work with whatever defensive-minded head coach Frank Vogel could cobble together. Inserting Allen into the starting lineup stays true to that way of thinking.
Allen is also not a terrible defender either, although it is hard for some fans to seperate playing hard and playing dirty, given what we've seen from Allen in the past. When he is on the court this season, the Suns have a defensive rating of 117.4. By far the worst mark of Allen's career, and worse even than the 115.6 (20th) rating the team has as a whole.
If Allen could improve even a small bit on that end, then his case to be the fifth starter would be untouchable. As it is though, he is the clear and obvious choice right now, with only Gordon pushing him for that spot. He spreads the floor too well, is proving he can produce career highs in the areas that matter when given the chance, and has modest size to try and defend. This spot is Allen's.