4 min read

Would You Draft Grayson Allen?

It may depend upon the situation

It’s hard to fathom that someone who could score 37 points against a team as good as Michigan State could fail in the NBA. Unfortunately, we know that it happens all the time. Grayson Allen clearly has NBA level range on his jumper, which should be more valuable in today’s game than it was 10 years ago. Since Duke plays zone so much we don’t have a clear idea of whether he can defend at an NBA level. ESPN currently has him rated as the 28th best prospect for the NBA draft. That makes it likely that he’ll end up with a good team, where he’ll get lots of open looks because he’ll be the fifth option on offense whenever he’s on the floor. Freed of the pressure to deliver immediately that falls upon a higher pick, he can dive for loose balls and rain threes while he develops the rest of his game.

Part of the reason Allen will fall in the draft is his age. I’m not sure that reasoning is valid. Every year we see teams draft teenagers with loads of raw talent who spend their first two years at the end of the bench because they haven’t mastered the fundamentals. By the time the kid is ready to play significant minutes, there’s a year left on his rookie deal so the payoff on the first contract is minimal. Now you have to decide whether to sign him to a big extension based on hardly any playing time, and the kid is still only roughly 23, so you’re still projecting what he can be. A guy like Allen may have a lower ceiling, but you have some degree of certainty that he’ll reach that ceiling because he’s pretty much there.

The uncertainty with Allen falls under another category. That would be the whole tripping thing. I’ve watched the videos of the three incidents in which Allen was involved. If you’re inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, you can concoct a scenario in which all three incidents were simply a case of two guys getting their feet tangled. In other words, of the three thousand or so Division 1 men’s basketball players who take the floor every year, there were three incidents where a player inadvertently extended his leg and another player ended up tripping. All of those incidents just happened to involve Grayson Allen. You could make that case if you want to.

Beyond the actual tripping, there’s the way that Allen reacted in each case. It’s hard to look at his face or his gestures and not conclude that he’s simply a petulant brat who feels that the whole world is pissing in his sandbox. Now, if three such bizarre incidents had occurred and you or I had been unfairly blamed for each of them, we might also feel victimized. But if you’re an NBA general manager, you have to realize there’s a non-zero likelihood that Allen is a dick.

It’s possible that Allen has matured and will be an ideal teammate. It’s possible that he’ll end up in an NBA locker room where some adults will set him straight. But it’s also possible that when Allen gets to the NBA, he will experience real frustration for the first time in his athletic career. Bear in mind that all three tripping incidents occurred in games that Duke was winning. Allen has never faced a situation where he was overmatched as a basketball player thus far. A case could also be made that Allen got something of a pass for his conduct — certainly the first time, and to some degree the second — because of his coach. It’s interesting to ponder how differently we all would have reacted to this if the guy who tripped three opponents played for, say, Bobby Knight, and if that reaction would have been more difficult for Allen to handle.

If Allen ends up on an NBA team that loses 60 games, or he ends up not getting playing time because his skills are below average, are his prior actions indicative of how he will respond to adversity? Does he bring enough to the table as a player to tolerate what he could do to your locker room if they are?

So if you’re a GM, Allen’s attitude is as big a variable as Joel Embiid’s foot or Nerlens Noel’s knee. Except Allen might not have the upside to justify taking a risk. As much as I hate using a white guy as the comp for another white guy, the best case for Allen is Kyle Korver, but not quite that good. It’s at least as likely, though, that he’ll be Jimmer Fredette (damn, I did it again). Bear in mind that Korver was in the league for ten years before he started 60 games in a season, so before then he was essentially a role player. Not only that, but in four of those years, his three-point percentage was under 40%, which means he was nothing special at the one thing he was good at. If he hadn’t been a good teammate, he might not have stuck around long enough to become what he is today.

Suppose Allen follows a similar trajectory. Will he do something on the court or in the locker room that makes a team decide he’s not worth the wait? The team that drafts him will have to accept that risk.

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