The next time you watch a college basketball game, listen closely to the commentators.
Count the number of times they call for a player to stop falling in love with his jumper, and to be aggressive and go to the bucket. Perhaps multiple times per broadcast, you’ll hear something like this: “[Team X] needs to stop settling for contested 3s. Go to the hole.”
You know what? In most cases, those announcers are right.
But they’d be wrong if they said it about Grayson Allen.
Allen and Mike Krzyzewski – who’s 70, mind you – are openly going against what’s become sort of a basketball consensus: attack mode is the best mode. Maybe not. Allen scored 37 points in Duke’s 88-81 win over Michigan State; he went 7-for-11 from 3. Many of those shots were well-contested.
“He’s a great shooter. He’s not a good shooter, he’s a great shooter,” Krzyzewski said after the game. “He’s really a good driver; concentrate on shooting and then driving.
“He’s matured as far as knowing who he is as a player,” Krzyzewski continued. “He doesn’t have to be this guy who gets knocked to the floor all the time.”
Allen is certainly not the first — nor will he be the last – player to have a shooting outburst like this. But the candidness with which he and his coach spoke about his game was enlightening. The rhetoric surrounding Stephen Curry – widely considered the best shooter on the planet – doesn’t sound like what we heard from Krzyzewski and Allen. It’s more like: OK, we know you’re an awesome shooter. But what else can you do? Can you become a better playmaker? Can you finish better inside? Can you get tougher?
For now, Allen is happy playing to his strengths.
“I felt like I was kind of hot from 3,” he said. “For me, when I get a few open looks, the basket gets bigger.”
That’s an understatement. Through three games, Allen is 17-for-26 (65 percent) from 3-point range. So it’s funny that shooting used to be a secondary element of his game.
Allen burst onto the scene in the national championship game against Wisconsin his freshman year. He earned a reputation as a fearless (and often reckless) driver who constantly sought contact. The highlights prove it:
That’s fine when you’re a bit player. But when you’re the guy – on the team – it’s unsustainable. After a phenomenal sophomore season, Allen sputtered as a junior, shooting a career-worst 39.5 percent from the floor. He was dealing with foot issues all season and never looked 100 percent. Some of that can be attributed to his playing style.
Allen will certainly still attack the basket this season when the time calls. Tuesday was not that time, and he was smart to generally avoid the interior against Michigan State. The hyper-athletic Miles Bridges had four blocks for the Spartans. Jaren Jackson, whose wingspan has a wingspan, had three.
So Allen calculated that he’s a better shooter than he is a driver, and it paid off. It’s not as if he got a ton of open looks. Sneaky-good defender Matt McQuaid was in his grill here twice. It made no difference:
“I felt like I was coaching [J.J.] Redick,” Krzyzewski said.
Duke is fascinating every year, for different reasons. Right now? This team is an experiment for the ages. You have the most polarizing player in the country, who’s a senior, starting alongside four freshmen. Yes, the freshmen are absurdly talented. But they’re freshmen. Last night, Gary Trent and Wendell Carter flashed tantalizing potential, but there were several rookie hiccups. Trevon Duval struggled in the first half but had a monster second half, finishing with 17 points, 10 assists and six steals.
In order for this team to be awesome, Allen needs to be awesome. Simple as that.
“I’ve played in 90 more games than the four teammates that are out there with me,” Allen said. “So I feel a little more comfortable and calm and confident out there.”
Comfortable on the court, and comfortable with his identity as a player. On Tuesday night, that meant one thing: let it fly.