I first had the idea for this column immediately after Countdown to Craziness way back in October. I again felt an urge to write it after he scored 18 points in 18 minutes against Presbyterian. His 27-point outing against Wake Forest was nearly the impetus I needed to finally put pen to paper.
But it wasn’t until freshman Grayson Allen came off the bench to lead Duke to its fifth national championship that I finally had my opportunity to write about how Grayson Allen is far and away the most likely candidate to be the next Blue Devil to have his number hung in the rafters at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
It’s sort of a strange concept to think about, given Allen was the afterthought of this year’s much-heralded recruiting class. But the reality is that Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow were never realistically going to spend more than a year on campus. Note: Jones has not announced his intentions, and was the most likely of the trio to stay in school, but I’d bet Mike Krzyzewski wouldn’t be trying to get high school point guard Derryck Thornton to reclassify if he expected his floor general to return.
Allen, on the other hand, unlike his fellow freshmen, didn’t have the one-and-done mentality when he got to campus. The Jacksonville, Fla. product had his heart set on Duke from ninth grade, even though the Blue Devils weren’t yet recruiting him. He has always put an emphasis on his education, recording a 4.4 GPA in high school. As good as Allen was on the court, he was always going to value his classroom time and stay for at least a second year in Durham.
However, there have been plenty of players who play even four years at Duke and don’t have their numbers hanging alongside those of Laettner, Hurley and Hill. It takes a truly special set of circumstances to live in the program’s eternal fame.
The first boon for Allen’s candidacy is that he has a national championship under his belt. Although nobody from the 2010 championship had their number retired, multiple members from the other three titles have been honored in this way.
Plus, Allen wasn’t just a bystander when the Blue Devils cut down the nets in Indianapolis, he earned his ring. He didn’t sit idly by like freshmen Mason Plumlee and Andre Dawkins did in 2010, when the duo combined for eight minutes, zero points and one rebound in the championship game against Butler. Allen poured in 16 points in 21 minutes, putting the team on his back with an impressive display of offensive firepower and defensive tenacity to bring the Blue Devils back from the brink of defeat.
The other advantage for Allen is that his numbers as a freshman are simply better than those of the 2010 trio of Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler. Since Rasheed Sulaimon was dismissed, opening the door for regular playing time, Allen averaged 19.3 points per 40 minutes. That is compared to the 14.5 points for Scheyer, 16.1 for Singler and 18.6 for Smith their freshmen seasons. Although his 3-point percentage trails those of Scheyer and Smith by a thin margin, his free throw rate (three throw attempts per shot attempt) ranks better than any of the other three by a large margin.
But besting the 2010 heroes isn’t enough to warrant Allen’s number waving from the ceiling for eternity. A better indicator would be seeing how his freshman per-40 numbers stack up against the other nine retired numbers from the Mike Krzyzewski era.
In terms of scoring, only Johnny Dawkins’ 20.2 and JJ Redick’s 19.5 points per 40 best Allen’s 19.3. His field goal percentage isn’t all that pretty at 42.7 percent, but it is actually better than the percentage achieved by fellow guards Redick, Jay Williams and Bobby Hurley. Dawkins is the only guard from the Krzyzewski era with a better freshman field goal percentage.
Allen’s relentless assaults on the rim also put him in a class above the rest of the pack. Hurley’s .546 free throw rate tops Allen’s .507 rate, but after the prodigious point guard only post players Laettner and Shelden Williams can compete with Allen’s proclivity for getting to the charity stripe.
Of course, there are things working against Allen. None of those players in the rafters played as few minutes freshman year as Allen, which means number 3 has some ground to make up on the pack. Allen would also presumably need to stick around after his sophomore season in order to do this.
Of the Coach K retired numbers, only Jay Williams didn’t stay all four years, but he did play three seasons in Durham, hanging a banner and winning the Wooden Award. Allen similarly needs to take home some hardware to have his number retired. The retired players all were at least Consensus All-Americans their final season at Duke, and at best they took home Naismith and Wooden Player of the Year honors.
But to put things in perspective, Allen had to play with talent unparalleled by those other players. With three presumptive first-round picks, including two projected in the lottery and an experienced Quinn Cook flanking him, there really wasn’t much room for Allen to spread his wings on the court. And yet he still shined brightest when the pressure was highest.
Grayson Allen is far from a lock to have his number retired. Such a distinction simply doesn’t exist at an institution like Duke. However, in the one-and-done era, there is no player with a better chance at seeing his number waving over Coach K Court than the precocious scorer from Jacksonville.
Now we’ll just enjoy the show as Allen tries to become the last No. 3 in Duke history.
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