Eight players, nearly 81 percent of last year’s total minutes played, more than three-quarters of the team’s scoring offense and a trio of top-10 recruits are all gone.
And just three seasons removed from Duke’s fifth national championship, only one player remains.
For all the wrong reasons, Grayson Allen’s name was thrust into the headlines during the Blue Devils’ 2016-17 campaign. First, it was his trip of Elon’s Steven Santa Ana in late December, followed by a one-game suspension. After Duke was throttled at Virginia Tech on New Year’s Eve with Allen on the sidelines, head coach Mike Krzyzewski announced that he had been stripped of his captaincy.
Amidst his off-court woes, nagging toe and ankle injuries slowed the Jacksonville, Fla., native’s growth on the floor after a stellar sophomore campaign. He averaged just 14.5 points in fewer than 30 minutes per game last year—significantly down from his team-best 21.6 points per game in 2015-16.
Now, with an incoming roster that features six freshmen and four returnees who have never averaged more than 10 minutes a night, Allen will need to reemerge as the Blue Devils’ centerpiece—and most importantly, their sole leader.
“I don’t think [being the only senior is] as much a burden as it is an opportunity,” Krzyzewski said at Duke’s 15th annual K Academy last Wednesday. “Anyone who’s been a leader for us has been a better player, and I think a burden would be if he had all the ball-handling and running of the team.”
At times last season, Allen was the Blue Devils’ primary point guard, and though it was a new role, the 6-foot-5 guard adapted well.
He led the team with 119 assists, and even when he struggled to score, he found ways to impact the game by dishing the ball out to his teammates. Against then-No. 21 Florida, Allen totaled just six points but set a career high with eight assists, a mark he would top a month later when he racked up 11 against Boston College.
But with Allen, Frank Jackson and Matt Jones splitting ball-handling duties, Duke’s offense never really clicked as a complete unit, and when the Blue Devils ran into the buzzsaw that was South Carolina in the second round of the NCAA tournament, they faltered. A hounding Gamecock defense forced 18 turnovers and sent Duke packing.
This time around, with freshman point guard Trevon Duval now in the fold, Allen will have the opportunity to return to his more natural role as a sharpshooter and off-ball scorer.
“I don’t know what our offense will be right now,” Krzyzewski said. “I do know that Trevon is going to have the ball and he knows what to do with it. Will he have it all the time? No, he shouldn’t have it all the time. Will he have it a lot? Yeah.... Pretty much, I want [Duval] to get the ball.”
Duval, the top point guard in this year’s class, comes to Durham with plenty of accolades. The No. 5 overall prospect in ESPN’s rankings was a McDonald’s All-American and earned a spot on the 2017 USA Junior National Select Team.
As the final piece of Duke’s recruiting puzzle, he may be the key to reopening Allen’s full potential.
With another true freshman in Derryck Thornton controlling the point guard role for the Blue Devils two seasons ago, Allen ranked 15th in the nation in points per game and shot nearly 42 percent from beyond the arc. Allen also starred in the 2015 national championship game as a freshman playing on the wing alongside classmate Tyus Jones.
“I’d like for [Allen] to [run the point] at times, but more for him to be more naturally who he is, and he can score the ball,” Krzyzewski said. “I think he can be one of the leading scorers in the country, and that verve he plays with—I want that showing up even more.”
At the end of last season, Blue Devil fans got to see glimpses of sophomore-year Grayson Allen. He averaged nearly 16 points per game in the last three contests of Duke’s ACC title run despite coming off the bench playing only about 27 minutes per game.
With former co-captains Amile Jefferson and Jones now graduated, Allen is the lone veteran left, and though a heavy burden will fall on the senior’s shoulders, he will not be alone.
“Everybody has an opportunity to be a leader,” Krzyzewski said. “It shouldn’t be that your best player is just the leader. That’s not the environment we’ve been successful in.”
Hank Tucker contributed reporting.