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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Wednesday / March 29.
  • Grayson Allen Thriving For Duke in New Role Off The Bench

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    By DENNIS CHAMBERS

    GREENVILLE, S.C. — On the surface, this season would seem like a big step backward for Duke’s Grayson Allen.

    Last year the embattled star guard averaged more points, he shot the ball at a higher percentage, he played more minutes. Oh, and he was a starter.

    This year Allen has taken a seat on the bench due to the emergence of sophomore Luke Kennard, who took Allen’s place as the team’s most dynamic scorer. The last time he showed up in the starting lineup was in an away game against Syracuse on Feb. 22. Duke lost that contest on a buzzer-beater by John Gillon.

    Since then, Allen slid into a reserve role and Duke responded more positively than you would guess. The Blue Devils are 6-1 since the move and in the midst of a five-game winning streak that includes an ACC Tournament title and a Round of 64 blowout victory over Troy.

    In short, moving their leading scorer from just a year ago to the bench has jump-started a potential national title run for Duke.

    Not only has the team many picked as the national champion at the beginning of the season responded positively, Allen has too.

    “Well, coming off the bench doesn’t really change the player that you are, necessarily,” Allen said. “It’s just when you come in, my job is to bring energy. And most of the times when I’m coming in it’s right after that first media (timeout). It’s just to give the team that extra boost.”

    Averaging just 22 minutes per game over this stretch coming off the bench, Allen has been able to contribute 11.9 points per game while shooting 50 percent from downtown. More than an extra boost, Allen has given Duke’s second unit the opportunity to not skip a beat by providing his lethal shooting.

    Just ask head coach Mike Krzyzewski.

    “He knows he’s as good as anyone on our team,” Krzyzewski said of Allen. “And you can only put five guys out there. And so by putting him in when we do, we can keep at least two of our major scorers in all the time. He, Luke and Jayson (Tatum), those are our three best scorers.”

    On Friday night against Troy in their opening game of the NCAA Tournament, Allen connected five times from 3-point range on just nine attempts. Krzyzewski believes the rotational move is responsible for the surge in Duke’s play as of late.

    “It actually, I think, helps us keep a better offensive continuity,” Krzyzewski said. “But he’ll play as many minutes as anybody in a game. And end-of-game situations and end of half.”

    In his third year of college, Allen has been around the block once or twice. He’s seen defenses of all shapes and sizes. Just a year ago, he averaged 21.9 points a game in ACC play. By using his range of knowledge and skill, getting a few minutes to dissect an opponent’s defensive scheme has proven to be the game changer that’s allowed Allen to thrive in a reserve role.

    For Duke, this development in Allen’s game has been the game-changer over the last month. If it continues, Allen off the bench could be the game-changer Duke needs for the next – and most important – month of basketball.

    “When I’m on the sidelines to start the game I can definitely see how the game’s going,” Allen said. “What’s open, what the defense is doing, what we need to do on offense and what’s being successful for the other team … So, I know what’s going on and I go in and make some reads and maybe tell some of the guys what I see.”

     

    Photo: Streeter Lecka

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