What’s Behind Allisha Gray’s Recent Hot Streak?

Dallas Wings guard Allisha Gray is on track for her most efficient WNBA campaign.

Diving into a recent hot streak and some season-long upticks in the right areas, let’s take a look at how the former Rookie of the Year has excelled in her third WNBA season (and first under new head coach Brian Agler). 

The South Carolina alum is having the best shooting year of her young career through 27 games, including 52.7 percent from the field in the first seven games of August. 

Simply making more 3-pointers has been a key. Gray was a sub-30 percent 3-point shooter in 2017 and 2018, making multiple treys in just 17 of those 68 games. She’s nailing 14-of-28 from deep in August, boosting her 3-point percentage to 34.4—just north of the 2019’s league average (33.5) per WNBA.com.  

August 3: Las Vegas Aces 75, Dallas Wings 70

August 18: Dallas Wings 68, Connecticut Sun 78

Becoming a bigger threat beyond the arc calls for more versatility than simply making the standstill looks. Utilizing the shooting window in a handoff situation or quickly relocating away from the ball are just two options Gray can take advantage of more often. 

Knocking down more open triples will make her a much more valuable player while unlocking more opportunities to unleash her biggest strength—hard-nosed drives to the rim.  

Gray’s restricted-area finishing was already solid at 60.8 and 63.2 percent in the past two seasons. She’s all the way up to 71.2 this year, including some very impressive finishes over and around some of the league’s most menacing rim protectors. 

June 22: Dallas Wings 68, Las Vegas Aces 86

June 30: Minnesota Lynx 86, Dallas Wings 89

Her shooting has also improved on paint attempts outside the restricted area, where she can pour in nifty floaters high off the glass or unleash a spin when defenders cut off her strong-hand drives, year over year. 

July 30: Dallas Wings 54, Las Vegas Aces 86

July 9: Los Angeles Sparks 62, Dallas Wings 74

Her role has changed since that ROY campaign where she had a usage rate of 22.0 and a 48.8 true shooting percentage. She’s now taking about four fewer shot attempts per game in a similar amount of minutes. 

This makes free throw rate—currently at a career-high 46.9 per Basketball-Reference—an interesting stat, as Gray isn’t a high-volume pick-and-roll scorer or isolation threat. 

Scaling back on the tougher attempts allows other players to take on those creation duties while she falls into a more fitting secondary role. The numbers bear that shift out: Nearly half of her makes were assisted in 2017 compared to 40 percent last season and just 26.7 during 2019. 

On a per-36 minute basis, her 3-point attempts are actually way down (2.8) from 4.6 her rookie season and 4.4 last year. Connecting at about a league-average mark from deep and attacking closeouts for layups, kick-outs or trips to the foul line forms a blueprint that will make her into a very valuable rotation player—or even a regular starter next to an elite playmaking guard and a second star in the frontcourt—on a great team. 

The Wings may have gotten there given more time with the Liz Cambage, Skylar Diggins-Smith duo. They limped to the No. 8 seed with a 15-19 record last season. Both stars missed some time down the stretch and an altercation between team president Greg Bibb and then-head coach Fred Williams turned the franchise upside down.

Williams, lauded by Cambage as one of the primary reasons she returned to the WNBA last season, was fired shortly thereafter and Cambage requested a trade this past offseason. 

UNCASVILLE, CT – AUGUST 14: Dallas Wings center Liz Cambage (8) and Connecticut Sun forward Chiney Ogwumike (13) in action during a WNBA game between Dallas Wings and Connecticut Sun on August 14, 2018, at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT. Connecticut won 96-76. (Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire)

Diggins-Smith has missed the entire 2019 season on maternity leave. No formal announcement has yet been made on whether she’ll suit up this year, but she was named as one of eight players that will be participating in USA Basketball’s fall tour as they gear up for the Tokyo Olympics. 

Diggins-Smith, Arike Ogunbowale, Azura Stevens and a likely 2020 lottery pick could provide plenty of shot creation for the next Wings playoff team. Unfortunately, 2019 has been a bit of a lost season for Stevens, who has logged just nine games due to a foot injury. 

Ogunbowale has put together some monstrous scoring performances without much help. She projects as the long-term starter on the perimeter alongside Diggins-Smith and ace defender Kayla Thornton. 

Gray’s path to playing time will be bleak if the Wings select (and keep) another guard early in the first round of the 2020 draft. But confidence in a more consistent outside stroke will force defenses to treat her differently and make her a cleaner fit around Dallas’ best players.  

Gray scoring more efficiently without the team’s two best point guards (Diggins-Smith and Moriah Jefferson) logging a single minute has been a very encouraging sign in a season defined more by the foundation Agler is looking to establish—something Gray can definitely be a part of producing at this level—rather than the wins and losses. 

All stats obtained via WNBA.com and current as of August 21. 

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