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Is Grayson Allen The Best Upperclassman In College Basketball?

After a phenomenal sophomore season, has Grayson Allen established as the best upperclassman in college basketball? We take an in-depth look.

NCAA Basketball Tournament - West Regional - Duke v Oregon Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Through most of his freshman season, Grayson Allen stood as a benchwarmer within the Duke Blue Devils rotation . Although he entered the university as a solid four-star recruit and McDonald’s All-American, Allen still remained hidden behind the team’s vast array of stellar college players. That roster featured players that were first round picks (Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones) and an NBADL Rookie of the Year (Quinn Cook). Due that elite talent, Allen was relegated to only averaging 8.5 minutes per game during the regular season.

Despite some solid late-season performances against NC State (11 points on 5-10 shooting) and Wake Forest (27 points on 9-11 shooting), Allen was still relegated to that same spot once the NCAA Tournament began.

Aside from an opening round game against Robert Morris, Allen averaged less than 10 minutes per game until the start of the Final Four. In that final four match-up against Michigan State, Allen played 17 minutes where he put up 9 points and 5 rebounds on 2-6 shooting. Although that extended playing time was definitely a step in the right direction for Allen, nobody would’ve predicted what would happen next.

During the first half of their NCAA title match up against Wisconsin, things seemed relatively normal for Duke. Stud freshmen Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor were leading the Duke’s offense like they had been during most of the season. That first half seemed more like a heavyweight title fight than a college basketball game as Duke and Wisconsin were trading punches to the point where they went into half-time tied 31-31.

Once the 2nd half began, Wisconsin started to heat up. On the back of Bronson Koenig and Frank Kaminsky, the Badgers started that 2nd half guns blazing as that duo pushed the team to a 48-39 lead with 13:17 left to go in regulation. With Duke struggling to even get an opportunity to score, they looked to an unlikely source in Grayson Allen.

From the moment that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski inserted Allen back into the game, the 6’5 guard just started to tear into Wisconsin. That was evident on both sides of the court, as Allen stood as an absolute pest on defense while being aggressive as a cutter and perimeter shooter. Under the guise of Allen, Duke had a 8-3 run to the point where they were trailing 51-47.

Allen’s work as a spark plug helped push the momentum back towards Duke. That momentum stuck with Duke throughout the rest of the game, as they took the lead and ultimately defeat the Badgers. Duke’s 68-63 victory over Wisconsin helped give Coach K his fifth NCAA Tournament title. Following that victory, Coach K praised Allen by saying the following:

Whether through graduation (Quinn Cook) or declaring for the NBA Draft (Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, Tyus Jones), the core of the Blue Devils changed drastically after that NCAA Tournament win. That shake up ultimately benefited Grayson Allen, as he immediately went from a benchwarmer to the leader of the defending NCAA Tournament champion.

Even the most optimistic Duke fan wouldn’t have been able to predict how good Allen would be during his sophomore season. In 36 minutes per game, Allen averaged 21.6 points, 3.5 assists and 1.3 steals per game on 46% from the field and 41% from beyond the arc. That play allowed Allen to be one of the most efficient guards in the ACC, as he maintained a fantastic 61% True Shooting Percentage.

The main cog behind Allen’s tremendous offensive attack is his work as a shooter. Over the course of his sophomore season, Allen continued to show an ability to knock down shots whether it’s through hand-offs, catch-and-shoots or working off the dribble. In any of those situations, Allen can throw up an accurate jumper, as he possess a smooth shooting stroke with a high release point.

As might be evident from his very solid perimeter shooting percentage, Allen has solid range on his perimeter jumper. Allen’s confidence doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s a chucker, quite the opposite. The young guard does a great job of recognizing his surroundings and knowing whether to shoot, drive towards the paint or dish it off.

Although not as lethal as his perimeter jumper, Allen’s work as an on-ball cutter is very solid. With a blazing quick first step, Allen’s able to drive past the majority of the opposition. After that initial victory, Allen can either throw up a running floater or put in a pretty layup or dunk. Allen’s ability to work around the rim is seen in the clip below, as he puts in a nice layup while being contested by the Georgetown defender.

Transitioning over to his work as a facilitator, Allen shows a lot of promise for a guard that’s so good at scoring. As previously mentioned, Allen is a very unselfish offensive player, as he does look for open teammates when needed. A lot of Allen’s facilitating comes when he’s handling the ball or cutting the paint.

In those situations, Allen does a nice job of catching the opposition’s attention before throwing a pass to an open teammate. An example of that is seen in the play below, as Allen drives towards the paint and throws a pretty bounce pass to Marshall Plumlee.

On the defensive end, Allen is more of a mixed bag. He definitely works hard on that end, as he does try to stick to his opposition like velcro while fighting through ball screens. However, that knack of sticking close to the opposition can be a huge detriment for Allen as the opposition can either force a foul or just blow right past him. So although he gives good effort on that end, his defensive IQ definitely needs to improve.

Despite those defensive flaws, Grayson Allen stands out as arguably the best player in college basketball. Allen is an incredibly solid offensive player that combines a diverse skill set with incredible efficiency. Although he’ll probably be overshadowed by the incredible incoming freshmen, especially on Duke, Allen should impress on a game-by-game basis. That consistency could push Allen to be one of the favorites for Naismith Player of the Year.