NEW YORK – One game into the postseason, and we’re back to asking a question that should have been laid to rest months ago:
Can Duke count on Grayson Allen?
We don’t know.
We don’t know physically.
And we don’t know emotionally.
We do know this: The early March returns are not good. The junior guard played his fewest minutes (12) and scored his fewest points (zero) since his freshman season. The most combustible player in college basketball also was hit with a technical foul for the second consecutive game – he was T’d at North Carolina on Saturday for a high elbow to the face of Brandon Robinson, and this time he was rung up for yet another outburst of emotion.
After slamming the ball down and bellowing the F-word, Allen was whistled for a T in the first half of Duke’s 79-72, Atlantic Coast Conference tournament victory over Clemson. Allen’s mini-tantrum came after official Lee Cassell whistled him for his second foul of the half, and highly respected ref Roger Ayers wasted no time in assessing the technical.
This was not a difficult, borderline or unfair call. After 25 years of covering college basketball games from courtside, it’s just about automatic: You slam the ball down and scream a clearly audible obscenity after a ref calls you for a foul, and you’ve earned a T.
Coaches tend to get more leeway with their language, but not the players. Not in college. Those arguing that Allen was unfairly T’d up likely are Duke apologists or inveterate ref bashers.
Furthermore, those minimizing this specific action are willfully ignoring the context of his career. The young man rides a ragged edge that separates fiercely competitive from chronically uncontrollable. And he keeps crossing that line.
Three intentional tripping incidents. A couple of additional plays where Allen’s actions were borderline cheap, spurring intense video scrutiny. Now two straight games with T’s.
We keep ending up back here. We keep having to ask his coach, Mike Krzyzewski, about Allen’s eruptions.
The Grayson-related distractions never end.
“Well, whatever they called, they called,” K said of the Allen T. “They saw it. Kids get technicals. Sometimes they don’t get technicals, either. They can slap the backboard and not get a technical.”
Nobody seemed too sure what uncalled technical Krzyzewski was referring to, but everyone was pretty sure that it was an attempt to shift the focus and minimize what his player did. Kids do get technicals, but if they’re also involved in a trio of tripping incidents, then this probably is more than just a “things happen” situation.
Still, Krzyzewski has been willing to ride out Allen’s incidents for any number of reasons, not least of which is the guard’s value to the team. But that value has been diminished for a month, ever since Allen lit up North Carolina for 25 points Feb. 9.
Since then, he’s averaged just 6.9 points per game and made just 24 percent of his shots. Those averages are down from 16.2 points and 41 percent in his first 22 games of the season.
Allen missed the Miami game Feb. 25 with an ankle injury, and since then he has come off the bench. His minutes and efficiency both have dipped, averaging just 17 minutes and 5.3 points the past three games.
“I think the injury is a huge part of it because he has not been able to really go after it in practice, and he’s lost his timing, his rhythm,” Krzyzewski said. “Even today … he took four shots, but the threes he took were right on target, but they were a little bit short. We’ve got to get him going, and these guys will help him because they’re good teammates.
“It wasn’t a good afternoon for him individually. Collectively, obviously, it was a great afternoon for us. When you don’t practice at the speed and with the reps that you normally do, it affects your performance. And it has with him.”
Duke is showing signs of moving on without Allen in a prime role. His downturn in production has coincided with the elevation of freshman point guard Frank Jackson into a vital contributor. With Jackson playing well, Luke Kennard having an admirably consistent season and freshman Jayson Tatum oozing talent, the Blue Devils might actually have what they need offensively without hoping for another Allen resurgence.
At least, what they need to win a couple games here and in the next tournament.
If this Duke team aspires to do what it was expected to do from the season’s start – namely, compete for the national title – it almost certainly will need Allen to perform at a high level. And to behave.
From what we saw of Allen on Wednesday, neither of those things can be counted on as the games increase in magnitude and pressure. Grayson Allen is unreliable right now.
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