How Grayson Allen's Comeback Season Is Impacting 2018 NBA Draft Stock

C.J. Moore@@CJMooreHoopsCollege Basketball National Lead WriterJanuary 16, 2018

Duke's Grayson Allen (3) celebrates after hitting a three-pointer during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Florida State in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017. Duke defeated Florida State 100-93. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)
Ben McKeown/Associated Press

Grayson Allen.

Say those two first names together, and it probably incites a strong reaction in college basketball fans.

For those who cheer for Duke, they love their heel. (Although loving anything "heel-ish" might be sacrilegious in Durham.)

For fans of other teams, he's reached Christian Laettner levels of Duke hate.

Tripper! Cheater! Dirty! Punk!

But for NBA scouts…

"I don't think anyone, at least from where we sit and having to analyze it constantly, I don't think anyone has ever thought less of him just because of incidents that have kind of defined his perception," an NBA scout told Bleacher Report.

"The people who wanted to draft Grayson Allen after his sophomore year, last year didn't do much to change their minds," a second scout told B/R. "On our staff, you've got Grayson Allen fans and guys who don't like Grayson Allen. There's not much converting going on. People have made their minds up when it comes to him."

A year ago, these sorts of opinions would have been met with skepticism. Allen's third tripping incident of his career—purposely sticking out his foot against Elon's Steven Santa Ana and then throwing a tantrum on the bench afterward—made headlines, and everyone was psychoanalyzing the Duke star.

That, combined with a dip in his production, was undoing all the good he had accomplished as a sophomore when he had his breakout season and emerged as one of the best scorers in the country, averaging 21.6 points per game. It was easy to wonder if Allen had hurt his NBA stock by returning to college and dragging his reputation through the mud with his on-court antics.

But scouts apparently couldn't have cared less. They focus on the basketball and try to project how skill sets and personalities will fit in the NBA game.

This season Allen has been a better citizen, and outside of a ridiculous shooting display at the Champions Classic—seven threes and 37 points in a win over Michigan State—he's sort of blended in and taken a backseat to Duke's star freshman, Marvin Bagley III.

To the untrained eye, it'd be easy to believe that what Allen's done on the court has hurt his stock. He's averaging 16.4 points per game—up from 14.5 last year—but the expectations entering his junior season were that he'd be the best player in college basketball. So anything less than that has changed the narrative.

JAG, by the way, is "just another guy."

But there's reason to argue that Allen is a better NBA prospect now than he was as a sophomore and has helped himself by staying in school.

He was awesome as a scorer his sophomore season, but his style of play was taxing on his body. He was a relentless driver, dashing frantically into the lane. He had a special ability to drive at full speed and still throw up high-difficulty shots with a feathery touch, but that style produced a lot of collisions.

Allen was not the same player last season, which could have been the result of a lingering ankle injury that required surgery in May 2017. The older version of Allen is much more risk-averse. As a sophomore, he shot 32.6 percent of his shots at the rim, according to Hoop-Math.com. This season, he's attempting 18.8 percent of his shots at the rim.

"His game has evolved," the first scout said. "In high school, he was basically just an athlete. Now he's kind of entered pro basketball as a shooter. His game has continued to grow over the course of a long time."

Allen can still slash, but he's a much more controlled driver. He's traded wild drives for mid-range jumpers, or he'll pump-fake to free himself and then step to the side and still shoot the three. (Nobody in college basketball does this maneuver better.)

Allen's efficiency has never been greater. He has a career-best 133.7 offensive rating, per KenPom.com. His usage rate is the lowest it has ever been, even when he was a fringe rotation player as a freshman. He's using just 20 percent of Duke's possessions when he's on the floor, compared to a 26.1 usage rate as a sophomore, per KenPom.com. While that's possibly hurt his star status at the college level, it sits well with NBA evaluators.

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 10:  Grayson Allen #3 of the Duke Blue Devils drives the lane against Shamiel Stevenson #23 of the Pittsburgh Panthers at Petersen Events Center on January 10, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Ima
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

"He's not going to have as much responsibility in the pros as he has in college, so he'll have an opportunity to be more efficient," the first scout said. "That's the stuff that's a little bit enticing. He's been willing to kind of reduce his role this year in order for the team to be more successful, and it's definitely worked very well and shows great maturity and leadership on his part to be willing to do that."

Allen has also controlled his emotions—or, at least, his tripping—but he's still a fiery player on the court. He has always been a guy who loves the stage. Remember, he was not a regular as a freshman, and out of nowhere, he scored 16 points in the national championship game. The most attention paid to a Duke game this year was the Michigan State matchup, and he carried the Blue Devils on a night they were without Bagley for most of the game. (Bagley got poked in the eye and played just 10 minutes.)

"He's a guy I'd want in the playoffs," a third scout told B/R. "That's the thing you have to ask yourself: 'Is this a guy I want to go to war with when teams are strategizing for seven games in the playoffs?' That's where I am with Grayson. I think Grayson would step up come playoff time, and even if he's your eighth guy off the bench, he could be that random guy that scores 20 points for you in a playoff game."

Allen does have his limitations that give scouts pause in other areas. Duke has not been a good defensive team the last three years, and he's been part of the problem. There are plenty of possessions where he's indifferent on that end. His lateral quickness is not great.

"He's not terribly big or the best athlete in the gym, and some people think he's got this great competitive fire; some people think he's got problems keeping his emotions in check. He's a polarizing guy," the second scout said. "That'll continue to be the case, but I think there's a place for him in the league probably."

And that's the case now more so than ever. Allen will be remembered for many things when his career at Duke is finished, and this season is still very much unwritten. But you will definitely be able to use one word to identify him when he finishes his time at Duke.

Pro. 

              

C.J. Moore covers college basketball at the national level for Bleacher Report. You can find him on Twitter @CJMooreHoops.

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