Grayson Allen isn't kicking or screaming now -- he's just the solid senior Duke needs
Duke has been really good as Grayson Allen has managed to move away from his former self
Where have you gone, Grayson Allen? A nation is not turning its hateful eyes to you.
Consider me surprised, and I suspect you feel the same. If you'd told me back in October that Duke would win 18 of its first 20 games, as it has, and would be subject of continual national debate over its performance and flaws, as it has, then I would have expected the controversial senior to be just that: controversial. A thrumming plot point in this 2017-18 season. Something we all just lived with again, like how LeBron James can't go a month (or a week) without a negative story attached to him, self-induced or not.
But that hasn't been the case with Allen. Not at all.
Have you noticed something a bit amiss with this season in college basketball? We've become so obsessed with Oklahoma's Trae Young (and that's warranted) that -- somehow -- Grayson Allen has become JAG: Just Another Guy. I imagine no one is happier about this than Grayson Allen, except maybe Duke beat writers.
It's been a pleasant turn of events.
Things have changed dramatically in a year's time for the guy who once was the sport's most dramatic figure, if not the most hated player in all of American sports. Let's go back 366 days. On Jan. 23, 2017, Duke lost at home to a bad NC State team. The Blue Devils were 3-4 in the ACC, didn't have Mike Krzyzewski on the sidelines due to back surgery, and the Grayson Allen Experience was an every-game Zapruder film analysis. You remember all of this, surely. It was awful.
But we haven't had any of that theater this season.
Duke won Tuesday night, in case you missed it. It was a casual 84-70 victory at Wake Forest. Allen had 17 points, six assists, four rebounds, three steals and three turnovers. If you saw the game, you saw Allen make about five or six really good plays, the kind of plays he's always made but seldom gets positive attention for. Allen was diving on the floor to save a possession, beating his opponent to the ball. He was opportunistic in snaring long, loose rebounds. He could be seen ripping a baseball pass to freshman Gary Trent Jr., who had the angle on a breakaway. That particular play helped keep a double-digit cushion on Duke's lead. Allen wasn't getting booed when he touched the ball. The announcing crew didn't once bring up how things used to be with No. 3.
In other words, it was a regular game.
But do you remember what happened last season when Duke went to Wake?
This was, like, the ninth-biggest thing about Allen's season in 2016-17. He -- and you can go back and check this -- couldn't go two games without something happening. It wasn't just trips or shoves. Little things would become huge things. Every possession was tracked. Random people on Twitter would go viral after recording on their phone a five-second clip of Allen doing something in a game and putting him on social media trial.
This has not been a feature of 2017-18, and I think that's been a critical development as Duke tries to stay steady.
Allen seems rehabilitated in the public eye, and he can thank Marvin Bagley III for plenty of that. If Bagley weren't on this team, Allen would have a lot more responsibility offensively -- and that would come with increased pressure and exposure. Instead, Allen's averaging 15.2 points, 4.4 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 1.6 steals. He's been good, but he's also disappeared in spurts. Against Michigan State at the Champions Classic he put up a career-high 37 points. But he's averaging just 9.8 points in his last six games.
A curiously quiet senior season for a guy who's still arguably the most famous, and infamous, player in the sport. Let's give him some credit for improving his reputation by gently going about his business. There is a faction of fans who will always hate Duke no matter the season or circumstance, but Allen hasn't done anything to validate newfound loathing this season. He's managed to do the unpredictable by blending into the scenery of the sport.
I do wonder what's to come in the next 10 weeks, though. College basketball's moment in the spotlight will come in full once the Super Bowl is over. Duke will remain an every-week story. I'm on record as believing that Duke only gets to the Final Four if Allen asserts himself as an alpha and works in tandem with Bagley. If that's to happen, you might see more opponents try to test the senior, might try to get in his head. It could prove to be an effective strategy.
Allen can't fully overhaul his image, but to this point it's been a season without cause célèbre for Allen and the Blue Devils. As a senior, he's clicking with a talented batch of freshmen. No one in college basketball is in the position he's in now: the lone senior on a dangerously young team. But it seems this unlikely arrangement has given Allen a real chance at changing who he is and how he feels, even if he can't do the same for so many who've already made up their mind about him.
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