-- There's no shortage of words on the topic of Grayson Allen. That said, allow me to offer at least two more sentences on the Duke junior:
2. Duke will be just fine while Allen serves an indefinite suspension for his third tripping incident in two seasons.?
Duke is loaded, even without Allen
If present trends continue, it's entirely possible that both Luke Kennard and Amile Jefferson will be named first-team All-ACC come March. Indeed, Kennard figures to be in the running for first-team All-American, if not the Wooden Award.
Note that since the ACC expanded to 15 member programs, putting two players on its five-player all-conference first team is extremely difficult. Duke won a national title in 2015 with Jahlil Okafor as its only representation on the first team (though Quinn Cook was named to the second unit).
I point this out not because all-conference honors can be exchanged for NCAA tournament wins -- they can't -- but because it might be a telling measure of Duke's talent level. With Kennard, Jefferson, Jayson Tatum, Frank Jackson, Matt Jones, Chase Jeter, Marques Bolden and possibly even an increasingly healthy and active Harry Giles, Coach K arguably has just as much firepower on hand without Allen as he did when he won a national title two years ago.
The things the Blue Devils are good at are things they can do without Allen
Duke is 12-1 and ranked No. 5 in the nation. You can make a case that No. 5 is an artificially low, December-flavored poll position that will correct upward as teams that are currently undefeated suffer their first losses. In any case, the Blue Devils are? being projected as a No. 1 seed?by my colleague Joe Lunardi, just as they were in the preseason.
Mike Krzyzewski's team has reached this point thanks to characteristically outstanding offense and vastly improved defense. On offense, the Blue Devils are converting 56 percent of their 2-point tries, an impressive figure that's nevertheless being eclipsed by a couple dozen other teams nationally at a point in the season when outstanding numbers are superseded by outlandish ones.?
But where Duke really stands out, even in December, is in terms of pure shot volume. If the Blue Devils maintain their current low turnover and above-average offensive rebounding rates in ACC play, the result will be the highest shot volume Duke has recorded in the past three seasons. Volume plus accuracy equals points in abundance. (That's why even a loaded Duke can reasonably expect big additional things if Giles ever logs significant minutes. A lineup with the freshman playing next to Jefferson could achieve notably robust results on the offensive glass.)
Meanwhile on defense, Coach K's team has made day-and-night improvements on the interior, both in terms of forcing misses and as far as collecting the resulting rebounds. The credit here plainly and primarily goes to Jefferson, who missed almost all of last season with a foot injury. His return and Kennard's explosive emergence have been the two defining (and entirely non-freshman-related) events of Duke's season thus far.
Certainly, Allen is a valued contributor for all of the above activities, but it's fair to say he ISN'T individually pivotal for any of them. It's likely that Duke can continue to generate a high volume of shot attempts, to force misses in the paint and to hit the defensive glass without him.
Even a loss on the road to Virginia Tech wouldn't necessarily be disastrous -- or revealing
Duke is about to open its ACC slate with its first true road game of the season at Virginia Tech. A loss in Blacksburg to an opponent that should go .500 or so in conference play would hardly be a shocking result. Of course, a defeat at the hands of the Hokies would also stand a good chance of being chalked up to Allen's absence. Would that be a reasonable assessment? Maybe, but it would also be a bit premature.
Two seasons ago, a full-strength Duke roster lost by 16 at home to a Miami team that subsequently missed the NCAA tournament. By the same token, in 2009-10, another group of Blue Devils that eventually won a national title lost on the road by 14 to an NC State team that ended up going just 5-11 in ACC play.
Surprising losses happen to teams that go on to win the national title. (Remember Villanova being blown off the floor and losing by 23 to Oklahoma last season?) If Duke's performance starts to dip over the course of multiple games and the Blue Devils are failing to outscore ACC opponents by a sufficiently impressive margin (say, 0.10 points) on each possession, then we'll be looking at an occasion where Allen's indispensability can be raised as one possible explanation.
Until then, a wait-and-see attitude is in order. We don't know how long Allen's indefinite suspension will last, but the balance of evidence suggests that the direct impact of his absence alone on Duke's overall performance could be minimal.