May 23, 2022
Why you should notice Allisha Gray’s impact on the Wings defense right now
The 6-foot guard is among the league leaders in ... blocks? Yes, blocks!
She is a former Rookie of the Year, top three in team scoring since 2019 and an Olympic gold medalist, yet she is one of the most underrated players in the WNBA. Dallas Wings guard Allisha Gray said people are just now starting to take notice and pay attention to her game.
“I have always been the same me, a team player,” Gray said. “I always do what I’m supposed to do on the court, play hard every night and try to impact the game everywhere I can.”
She’s been in Dallas for six seasons, but second-year head coach Vickie Johnson has wanted to give the Wings more of a defensive focus. And through the first part of the 2022 season, Gray’s been an anchor on that end, a key part of Dallas’ 4-2 start to the year.
The 6-foot guard recently recorded a career-high five blocks in the Wings’ 94-84 road win over the Phoenix Mercury on May 19. The massive night has her tied for the third-most blocks per game in the league so far this season — blocking more shots than everyone in the WNBA except A’ja Wilson and Ezi Magbegor.
She’s averaging 1.8 blocks and 1.2 steals per game, as well 4.3 defensive rebounds per game. It’s all numbers that, while early, can be the foundation for a goal Gray and Johnson set before the season.
“That’s one of the things we talked about [in the offseason], is that she wants first team all defense,” Johnson said.
The effort isn’t new, but it is something Dallas forward Kayla Thornton feels is noteworthy for a player she considers is one of the best defenders in the league.
“She puts heart in it and defense is heart,” Thornton said. “It’s just effort and heart and she gives that every night.”
With all that Gray has accomplished in her professional career so far, she said she still feels that she is a very underrated player in the league. The former South Carolina Gamecock said everyone is focused on how a player can score and do not pay attention to what a player does that does not show up on the stat sheet, which may be why she doesn’t get a lot of credit — not that she minds, though.
“I do a lot of things on the defensive end, I do the small things to help my team out,” Gray said. “I’m going to keep doing me. Either you recognize me or not I’m still the same old me.”
And obviously, defense tends to get overshadowed in the public eye, and it’s hard to blame people for doing that with the Wings. When Dallas has won, they have an offensive rating of 116 — tops in the league in wins — and have two players in the top 15 in points per game: Arike Ogunbowale is second with 19.7 and Marina Mabrey is 14th with 15.8.
Gray herself is a steady contributor offensively, too, averaging 13.5 points per game, but her and Thornton have spearheaded the defense for Dallas, and 2022 no. 7 pick Veronica Burton was drafted to help strengthen the defense, too. The rookie guard said Gray takes a lot of pride in her defense and that you see that confidence grow while being tasked with defending the best player on the team day in and day out.
“She’s a lot longer than she looks and she’s very athletic,” Burton said. “The way she is able to get her hands on the ball and disrupt passes and shots is incredible. I agree with her, I think she should be getting far more recognition for her defensive abilities.”
But life in the WNBA is constantly about proving yourself, and Gray’s next defensive assignment will give her a shot to do that against a longtime league great. Dallas starts a home-and-home with the Connecticut Sun on Tuesday, meaning Gray will be tasked with guarding All-Star DeWanna Bonner — who is four inches taller than Gray.
But Gray will be prepared, as she said that she doesn’t sleep on any player that she has to guard. Now, it is time her defensive abilities are not slept on as well.