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Grayson Allen's Breakout Season

Duke's sophomore guard is having an astonishing season.

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Dec 30, 2015; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils guard Grayson Allen (3) shoots a three point shot in their game against the Long Beach State 49ers at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Dec 30, 2015; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils guard Grayson Allen (3) shoots a three point shot in their game against the Long Beach State 49ers at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

Grayson Allen did not have one of his better games at Miami, but the sophomore wing guard is still having one of the best all-around seasons any player at his position has ever had for Mike Krzyzewski.

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A year after being a one-game wonder – Allen averaged just 4.4 points a game, but starred in the national title game – the 6-4 guard has emerged in his sophomore season as one of the most effective all-around wing guards in college basketball.

That’s reflected in the spectacular rise of his scoring average – from 4.4 points a game in 2015 to 20.3 points a game after 21 games this season. That rise of 15.9 points a game is on pace to be the largest one-season jump in ACC history.

That record is currently held by Clemson’s Will Solomon, who upped his average by 14.6 points between 1999 and 2000. And that number is just ahead of Duke’s Tate Armstrong, who improved by 14.5 points between 1975 and 1976.

But it’s not all about Allen’s scoring.

What makes his 2016 season so impressive so far is the breath of his performance.

Just one example – Allen is currently leading the team in both scoring (20.3 points a game) and in assists (3.7 a game). How rare is that? Well, in the Krzyzewski era, it’s been done just six times:

  • 1983 – Johnny Dawkins (18.1, 4.9)
  • 1987 – Danny Ferry (14.0, 4.3)
  • 1994 – Grant Hill (17.4, 5.2)
  • 2001 – Jason Williams (21.6, 6.0)
  • 2010 – Jon Scheyer (18.2, 4.9)
  • 2011 – Nolan Smith (20.6, 5.1)

(Note: Ferry also led in rebounding in 1987, making him the only player in the Krzyzewski era to lead all three categories.)

This list is interesting. It includes two forwards (Ferry and Hill) and four guards who played both point guard and wing guard in their Duke careers. But in the season in which they led the team in scoring and assists, all four of those guards were primarily point guards. Allen is the only wing guard on the list.

Now, to some degree, his leadership in assists reflects this team’s lack of a point guard. Freshman Derryck Thornton is leading on the job and is almost an assist per game less than Allen. And it’s true that Allen’s average of 3.7 assists a game it not an especially high number for a Duke team leader.

But it is an extremely high average for a wing guard under Krzyzewski – at least one who is primarily playing the wing position. If we separate out the natural wings forced to play point (Dawkins in ’83, Scheyer in ’10, Smith in ’11), we get this list of Duke wings who scored at least 15 points a game:

  • 2002 – Jason Williams … 5.4 assists a game
  • 1996 – Chris Collins … 4.5 assists a game
  • 2005 – Daniel Ewing … 4.0 assists a game
  • 2015 – Grayson Allen … 3.7 assists a game
  • 1986 – Johnny Dawkins … 3.2 assists a game
  • 2000 – Chris Carrawell … 3.2 assists a game
  • 2015 – Quinn Cook … 2.7 assists a game
  • 2005 – J.J. Redick … 2.6 assists a game
  • 2006—J.J. Redick … 2.6 assists a game
  • 1982 – Chip Engelland … 2.5 assists a game
  • 1990 – Phil Henderson … 2.3 assists a game
  • 2012 – Austin Rivers … 2012 assists a game
  • 1993 – Thomas Hill … 1.5 assists a game
  • 1988 – Kevin Strickland … 1.3 assists a game

That’s 14 wing guards who scored at least 15 points a game under Krzyzewski. Of course, as usual in the Coach K era, its sometimes difficult nailing down exact positions. For instance, Jason Williams, who started at the point in 2000 and 2001, shared the backcourt in 2002 with point guard Chris Duhon. Who played point and who played wing? And 1996 is a real nightmare – Jeff Capel nominally played the point, but Chris Collins actually had more assists. Daniel Ewing was a natural wing guard, but he played the point for a substantial part of the 2005 season after Sean Dockery was hurt.

In any event, Allen’s assist totals look pretty impressive.

And it’s not just assists – he’s also averaging 4.7 rebounds a game.

How does that stack up?

Well, the best rebounding guard in Duke history is unquestionable DeMarcus Nelson. The 6-4 California product managed to play two healthy seasons (2006-07) and he averaged 5.4 and 5.8 rebounds a game in those years. He was so effective on the boards that Krzyzewski often used him as a power forward.

Of course, most of Coach K’s wing guards see their time in the frontcourt. Allen plays in a rotation that almost always has three guards on the floor at the same time (and that’s not counting 6-8 Brandon Ingram, who is a natural wing).

But when you look at guard rebounding under Krzyzewski, you don’t see many guards rebounding like Allen – other than Nelson.

In fact, Allen’s 4.7 rebounds a game matches Thomas Hill’s 4.7 rebounds in 1993 as the third-best rebound numbers for a Duke guard (after Nelson’s two spectacular years). To be precise, Hill’s currently got a slender lead – 4.719 to 4.714.

After that, you have to go to Kevin Strickland’s average of 4.6 rebounds a game in 1987 and 4.5 a game in 1988.

Of course, again you run into a question of positions. Does Vince Taylor (4.9 rebounds a game in 1981), Brian Davis (4.5 rebounds a game in 1992), Chris Carrawell (4.9 in 1999 and 6.1 in 2000), or Gerald Henderson (4.9 rebounds a game in 2009) count as wing guards or natural forwards?

Either way you go, Allen’s rebounding numbers are exceptional for a Duke guard.

So are his shooting percentages – 49.3 percent from the floor, 39.0 percent from the 3-point line and 84.1 from the foul line. He’s has almost exactly a 2-to-1 turnover to assist ratio and he’s also averaging 1.0 steals per game.

In fact, when look at his combined numbers – scoring (20.3), rebounds (4.7), assists (3.7) and shooting percentages, it’s hard not to suggest that he’s having one of the best all-around seasons of any wing guard in the Krzyzewski era.

I think the gold standard in that regard is either J.J. Redick in 2006 or Johnny Dawkins in 1986. Redick averaged significantly more points (26.8) than Allen, but had far less rebounds (2.6) and less assists (2.8). Allen is shooting a better overall percentage from the floor, but slightly less from 3-point range and from the foul line.

Dawkins averaged almost exactly the same points in ’86 (20.2 – and he did it without the 3-point shot). He was slightly behind Allen in assists (3.2) and rebounds (3.6). He shot better from the floor (an astounding 54.9 percent) and just about the same from the foul line.

I would add one more candidate to the list of Coach K’s greatest wing guards – Jason Williams in 2002. The year before, he played mostly point guard, but in 2002, he shared the point with sophomore Chris Duhon (who led the team in assists). Williams still averaged 5.4 assists a game – far more than Allen, Dawkins or Redick. He was slightly ahead of Allen in scoring (21.3) and slightly behind in rebounding (3.5). Williams didn’t shoot quite as well overall, but his 3-point percentage was slightly better. His free throw percentage was a dismal 65.9 percent (which burned the Devils in the NCAA Tournament).

Of that group, Dawkins gets an edge as a superior defender. I don’t know quite how to quantify that, but in my (admittedly limited) judgment, I don’t see a big difference between Redick, Williams and Allen at the defensive end. Dawkins was a cut above those three in terms of defensive performance.

There have been quite a few other wonderful wing guards in the K era – from Trajan Langdon to Phil Henderson to Chris Collins to Thomas Hill to Daniel Ewing to Austin Rivers. Quinn Cook was very good on the wing last year after two seasons as the starting point guard. There was Nolan Smith (although his best year was 2011, when he played mostly point) and Jon Scheyer (whose best year was 2010 when he was strictly a point).

Still, I would argue that if Allen continues to play at this level – and on the whole, his numbers are slightly better overall in conference play – he would put himself in the very front rank of Coach K’s all-time wing guards – with Redick, Dawkins and Williams.

That’s pretty good company – all three won major national player of the year honors in their best seasons.