On Thursday morning, ESPN analyst and former head coach Fran Fraschilla dropped this very bold prediction about Duke guard Grayson Allen:
Before anyone else lays into Fran on Twitter, let it be known that Fraschilla has already backpedaled on the “Easily” statement. Even so, I’m genuinely curious if Fran has a legitimate argument here.
First, a backstory on college basketball’s most well-known player:
Grayson Allen was slotted into a modest role off the bench as a Duke freshman, but he broke out and scored 16 points in the national championship game – just the fifth time he scored in double figures in his first season. That performance landed Allen on the 2015 all-NCAA Tournament team, which he then used as a springboard for a massive sophomore campaign.
Allen didn’t start a game and averaged just 4.4 points a night as a freshman, but that catapulted to 35 starts in 36 games and 21.6 points per game in 2016. After just five double-digit scoring performances the year prior, Allen recorded four 30+ point games, nineteen 20+ point games, and just two games all season where he didn’t rack up at least 14 points. The 21.6 points per game average was second in the ACC only to NC State’s Anthony “Cat” Barber.
Allen opted to return for his junior season, but his efficiency, production, and role all slipped. Almost a unanimous favorite to capture the Wooden and Naismith awards, Allen was known more for his on-court tripping antics than anything else. His minutes per game average dipped from 36.6 to 29.6, points per game from 21.6 to 14.5, and points per possession from 1.285 to 1.167.
So how, exactly, does Grayson Allen go from a tremendous letdown as a junior to at least a 25-point scorer in 2018? I’m not guaranteeing it by any means, but it’s actually not as shocking as most would believe.
Dating back to the 1992-1993 season, 84 players have averaged 25 or more points per game (minimum 20 games played). Of those 84, three were freshmen, eight were sophomores, 22 were juniors (three of which were JUCO transfers), and 51 were seniors. In turn, 86.9% of 25+ PPG scorers since 1993 have been upperclassmen.
I constructed a data set that included all of these 84 players, their points per game average before they recorded the 25+ PPG season, and the percentage of team field goal attempts that were carried over for the player’s 25+ PPG season. The purpose of these two stats was to show how much a player had to increase his points per game average, and also discover if the player’s team had lost a great deal of its offensive production, which could allow the player to have a larger offensive role the following season.
There’s good news and bad news for Grayson Allen.
First, the bad news is that only three players since 1993 have averaged fewer points per game than Allen prior to their 25+ PPG season. This means that Allen will have to see a vast improvement in his nightly scoring average to eclipse 25 points in 2018. You probably wouldn’t need much analysis to know that, though.
The positive news, though, is that Duke isn’t carrying over 79.9% of its 2017 field goal attempts this fall. Luke Kennard (484 field goal attempts in 2016-17), Jayson Tatum (365), Frank Jackson (281), Matt Jones (239), Amile Jefferson (238), and Harry Giles (78) have all moved on, leaving Grayson Allen (356 attempts) and Marques Bolden (35) as the leading returning shot-takers for the Blue Devils. Only two 25+ PPG scorers in the last 25 years have been on teams that have had fewer team field goal attempts transfer over (Southern’s Tim Roberts with 91.1%, Texas’ Kevin Durant with 85.1%).
This simple data set does not account for incoming recruiting classes or transfers, but the information should still maintain a decent amount of legitimacy. I constructed a linear regression that used prior points game and team field goal attempts carried over to create an expected points per game average. The regression projected each of the 84 scorers within 3.9 points per game of their actual average. As for Grayson Allen, the regression gave the Duke senior a projected 25.9 points per game average for the 2017-18 season. The regression, however, isn’t aware that the Blue Devils welcome a historic recruiting class this fall.
Don’t be shocked if Allen is flirting with 25 points per game by the time ACC play rolls around, especially with this non-conference schedule.