Grayson Allen legitimately looked good in Las Vegas.
The junior guard’s career-high 34 points in a blowout win over UNLV came one day after he’d practiced for the first time in five weeks.
Duke legitimately looked good against Florida, ranked No. 21 at the time – and not one of those playing-against-Maine-or-Marist-or-someone-like-that good. The Blue Devils had worked a couple of previously sidelined freshmen back in, their contributions noted, especially on defense and in transition.
Still, No. 5-ranked Duke (10-1) isn’t exactly complete.
Freshmen Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden still have to get in better shape after coming off a foot and lower-leg injury, respectively. They both made their college debuts on Dec. 3 against Maine. Also, who could imagine how much better Allen will be when he’s practicing regularly?
And of course, there’s Harry Giles. The prized freshman forward hasn’t played basketball in 13 months. Coach Mike Krzyzewski is hoping the 6-10, 240-pound forward will be ready after exams, which start this week.
“Harry did some really good contact work,” Krzyzewski said after Duke’s 94-45 win over UNLV Saturday. “He’s coming. He hasn’t played in 13 months; he’s got to have a period of adjustment.”
Duke’s next game is Monday against Tennessee State, which nearly upset N.C. State this past Saturday, before taking on Elon on Dec. 21 in its final nonconference game. The Blue Devils open its ACC season on the road against Virginia Tech on New Year’s Eve. This exam period will be a crucial opportunity to get players 100 percent healthy and give them a chance to figure out its true makeup.
The injuries have certainly shifted some early-season expectations, yet Duke is 10-1. It shot 70 percent in the second half of the UNLV game.
“I think we’re sharing the ball really well, and we’re getting so much better at that,” said Allen, who’s hoping to improve over the exam period. “With Jayson back in there, he’s feeling more comfortable in our offense. I think we’ve done such a good job since this season’s gone on with sharing the ball, finding the open guy. It’s really hard to guard when you do that because guys like Luke, who can really, really score the ball, guys like Jayson, who can get hot and score, and Amile (Jefferson is) plaing great.
“We’re moving it around and the defense is scrambling.”
On Friday, Duke practiced for one of the first times with everyone, including Giles. Giles is being eased back into any activity. He first practiced against contact on Dec. 2.
Bolden and Tatum did appear fatigued in their debuts a little more than a week ago, but Tatum scored 16 points in the second half against Florida, indicating the wing is settling in.
The Blue Devils have had to make several adjustments in the midst of players nursing their way back to health, including in their starting lineup, which wasn’t supposed to include sophomore guard Luke Kennard or freshman guard Frank Jackson. Jackson had held down the freshman class and has averaged 28 minutes, while Kennard leads the team in scoring with 20 points per game and hit 35 points against Maine.
The pieces are finally coming together for Duke, giving it a chance to work its depth.
“We’re really close. We’re really close (to being the team we want to be),” Kennard said. “Everybody is starting to get into the flow. We’re learning each other. These trips like this, we’re growing from it and we’re getting closer as a team off the court, which is key for us. We have a lot of guys with a lot of talent, and we’re really connecting and playing really good basketball right now.”
So, just imagine when everyone is healthy.
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan