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Naismith Contender: Duke Blue Devils guard Grayson Allen

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Duke Blue Devils guard Grayson Allen enters the season as one of the few obvious front-runners to win the Naismith National Player of the Year Award. Yet, it won’t be an easy voyage for the junior to accomplish. Variables outside his control may alter his production to the point of costing him some shine.

Starting with the good first, Allen gets a few built-in benefits of the doubt other Naismith contenders — such Dillon Brooks — won’t be afforded.

He gets to play for a national blue-blood program, a team destined to be highly ranked all season, providing him plenty of nationally televised games, and Allen is already a name-brand college basketball player.

It is also worth noting that he happens to be good at basketball, too. That’s the most important part of this discussion.

As a sophomore, Allen’s numbers jumped to absurd levels of production. Over 36 games, the guard averaged 21.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game. A rather efficient player — shooting 47 percent from the floor and 42 percent beyond the arc — Allen posted the kinds of numbers that, if duplicated, can put him in the mix for the award this season.

It is presumed that he will make a jump in development.

Allen already showcased his ability to get better by going from an athletic freshman to a more well-rounded player as sophomore. If he can improve even more as a maturely built junior, he might become so scary great that he’ll be a fondly-remembered college player, even in the role of a villain.

Unfortunately for Allen, there are some things working against him, most of which have nothing to do with him, but are a direct result of an attempted image rebuild.

The entire Allen clan spent the late portion of the offseason trying to paint Grayson in a better light than the one he left us with in a post-tripping two guys world.

If we are to be honest about the entire thing, it came off as an entitled player possibly having an entitled family — which epitomized folks who already have great things — whining about a negative narrative being built around someone whose actions warranted such conversations.

It is unlikely that people are buying the Allen family spin on the entire thing, but the fact that the Allens went out of their way to make the already polarizing Grayson seem more like a nice guy probably makes him even more disdained. In sports, unless directly invested as a fan of a player or the program he plays for, people generally don’t want to look beyond what they see on the surface.

Fair or not, this can hurt Allen’s award chances. A redemption story this is not, and trying to self-create that goody-two-shoes narrative can be bad for business.

So can the hype that surrounds Allen. He’s been pegged — for some time — as Duke’s next great villain. Because of that, people will want him to be some version of J.J. Redick or Christian Laettner.

Forget about the fact he doesn’t want to be perceived as that type of player; Redick and Laettner mostly embraced that role, but Allen is trying like hell to say he’s not that. The expectations that come with fans wanting him to be the bad guy, as well as being as good as former Duke villains, create a burden he must carry. The expectations might be so unrealistic that there’s no way his shoulders can withstand the weight.

More importantly, his numbers may go down this season simply due to happenstance.

The Blue Devils are bringing in what is arguably the greatest recruiting class in the history of their storied program, and a potential result of that is having so much talent that Allen’s gaudy numbers go down because he won’t have as many attempts to shoot the rock.

Only time will tell if that is actually the case, but from a general point of view, whenever there’s so much talent on one roster, the numbers usually get spread out a bit more evenly than if it was just one superstar carrying a team on his back.

Is Allen in a good place to win the Naismith Award? Definitely. He’s also good enough to win it, too. However, there are so many other variables at work that, come conference play, he might become an afterthought.

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