The Curious Case of Grayson Allen

Posted by Matt Auerbach on February 8th, 2018

In many ways this college basketball season has been hijacked by Oklahoma freshman superstar Trae Young. What began as adulation and anointing has now flipped to interminable and, often times, laughably unfair scrutiny. Just one short year ago that same media microscope was being utilized to examine, analyze and admonish the on-court behavior of Duke superstar Grayson Allen. And while the senior guard is still in our collective consciousness, the discussion surrounding his senior year is most notably wondering: What happened? After an otherwise brilliant All-American sophomore season was marred by a pair of on-court tripping incidents, Allen entered his junior campaign as a strong NPOY candidate as well as the sport’s most hated son. Fitting in the Duke villain mold of Danny Ferry, Christian Laettner and JJ Redick, Allen had the game and presumptive arrogance to wear the target of most everyone’s venom. But after yet another tripping incident followed by a sideline meltdown that led to his suspension and loss of team captaincy, Allen’s game regressed in kind. A late ACC Tournament surge and an offseason to heal led most observers to assume Allen would set the world on fire in 2017-18.

Grayson Allen Has Been as Enigmatic as Controversial in his Duke Career (USA Today Images)

Popular opinion was the smart money for only a fleeting moment. With stud freshman Marvin Bagley III forced to miss the second half of this season’s Champions Classic tilt with Michigan State, Allen erupted for 37 points on 7-of-11 shooting from beyond the arc in a convincing Duke triumph. That game was in the middle of November, and we have yet to see that Grayson Allen again. The senior took a team-high 20 shots that evening, which he has only equaled once since in a dismal 5-of-20 effort at Boston College. That early December game (a loss) triggered a shooting slump in which Allen has connected on more than half of his shots in only two games since. Has Allen lost his confidence or is it something more?

In Allen’s best season as a sophomore, he shot 252 free throws and logged a free throw rate of 49.1 percent (281st nationally). As his aggressiveness has waned on the floor over the past two seasons, his free throw rate has dropped as well — from 44.5 percent last year to a paltry 28.5 percent this season. A career 83 percent shooter from the stripe has only been to the line 72 times this year, logging just a shade over three attempts per contest. The same reckless abandon that was clear when Allen introduced himself to America in the 2015 Final Four has steadily evaporated. Numerous armchair psychiatrists have speculated as to why Allen has behaved so erratically over the last two years, but you have to wonder whether the ongoing scrutiny appraising his every on-court movement has somewhat mitigated his aggressiveness? Has he opted to become a traditional perimeter player with little risk of contact, flailing body parts, and resultant examination of what his arms or legs did while in mid-air? Or is it something less sinister, and just a byproduct of playing with a pair of traditional big men in Bagley and Wendell Carter, Jr. who clog his driving lanes?

The overarching point is that Duke will not finish this season with a National Championship trophy without Allen regaining his aggressiveness. The problem might be that the Allen of today is a better representation of who this player is than the Allen of two years ago. So what becomes of the remainder of his career, and correspondingly, the rest of Duke’s season? There’s no doubt that Allen will shake his shooting slump at some point. A career 38.5 percent three-point shooter doesn’t just become a 26 percent shooter overnight (his ACC mark this season). But getting his shooting touch back will not be enough. With only eight regular season games left, the senior really needs to throw caution to the wind and again play with that nothing to lose. Without that version of Allen, a Duke team that is heavy on talent but light on grit is bound to bow out of the NCAA Tournament far earlier than it probably should.

Matthew Auerbach (43 Posts)


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