Debating William & Mary, sports and culture since 2011. Updated every Wednesday.

Who the #%@! is Lavoy Allen

In Basketball, Long form on September 20, 2011 at 8:53 pm

Morrisville, Pennsylvania’s Lavoy Allen is one of the best basketball players in Temple’s history and, apparently, the worst of the NBA.

They say you can nail a job in the first 90 seconds of an interview. Eye contact, a strong handshake, a relaxed smile and a subtle compliment can do wonders. Balancing deference with measured confidence, carefully telegraphing that this is their house, but you belong here.

Some players fall in the draft out of concerns that they’re closet headcases, arrogant jackasses who make great AND1 tapes but terrible teammates. Others have the opposite problem.

Make no mistake, Lavoy Allen is the latter, and he is the worst player in the NBA.

He is 22 years old, 6’9”, 228 lbs. He grew up outside Trenton in Morrisville, Pennsylvania and is coming off four years of Division I basketball at Temple University. He holds the Owls’ record for career rebounds.

During that time, he averaged 11.6 points per game, 2.3 assists, 8.6 boards and 1.8 blocks, anchoring a team that made the NCAA Tournament in each of his four years. His junior year, the year he really should have gone out for the draft, he posted a double-double on points and rebounds for the season.

The Philadelphia 76’ers, his hometown team, selected him in the second round with the 50th overall pick of this year’s NBA draft.

None of that really matters though. Because according to 91 ESPN and TrueHoop Network analysts, he is the worst player in the NBA – number 500 out of 500. To put that in perspective, notorious screw-up Eddy Curry is a full seven spots ahead of him. Brian Scalabrine, most famous for inspiring the hoop dreams of Michael Rapoport lookalikes everywhere, pulled the 449th slot after averaging 1.1 points in 4.9 minutes per game with the Chicago Bulls last year.

The ranking of individual players only makes sense when there’s argument and dissension. Even then, that only takes place at the top the list. The assumption of incompetence is contagious and not prone to fluctuations; once someone labels you the worst, climbing back up the ladder becomes a battle against the unimpressed.

Not to discourage Lavoy Allen further, but no one ever considered him a top-level prospect. I hadn’t heard of him until I saw his name perched at the bottom of the ESPN’s player rankings, bearing the morose honor of being Mr. 500.

His highlight reel plays like a CYO clinic – lots of finding an open part of the floor, creating space and hitting a 10-foot jumper. His skills around the basket, which – given his size – should be his bread and butter, are pedestrian but fundamentally pure. He doesn’t have a crazy pump fake or step-back shot like most power forwards, just a good sense of timing and positioning.

You walk away from a Lavoy Allen performance impressed by his efficiency but bored by his obvious beta-male tendencies. As a big man, he lacks the “me-first” mentality necessary to make him a killer in the clutch.

Like a B-average liberal arts major who struggles to find a job after college, Lavoy Allen will supposedly languish in the NBA is rooted in his lacking of the base instincts necessary to create a formidable identity. Basketball players who are 6’9” and 228 lbs. should be capable finishers or post defenders. While Allen can dunk, and is well-regarded for his defensive skills (1.8 blocks per game ain’t too shabby for a power forward), he’s not particularly assertive.

His timidity becomes even more apparent in his interactions with the press and on-court demeanor. He doesn’t boast or brag or slam his chest and bark at the stands. He’s very self-aware, recognizing draft analysts had him ranked, at-best, at the bottom of the second round in a draft that was touted as being exceptionally weak.

“I guess people want me to scream and yell and stuff,” Allen said to the The Philadelphia Inquirer, a newspaper that summarized his career best with the headline: “Temple’s Lavoy Allen has quietly had a spectacular career”.

His style of play hasn’t served him well. His belief that people want him to scream and yell and stuff is true because, at the very least, that will convince analysts and fans of his passion for a game that he only started playing “because he was tall” (this is true, he only picked up the sport because his height provided an obvious advantage over his fellow eighth and ninth graders).

Nobody wants to hear that story, though. What people want to hear is Lavoy Allen take pride in being one of the best college rebounders of the last four years, they want to hear someone who is ecstatic to play for a team and a town that just cheered him to four postseasons, they want a local-boy-made-good story. Maybe they just want to hear him get pissed off.

Every Google search turns up humbling praise from coaches and teammates, including Temple Head Coach Fran Dunphy, who said: “He might be the smartest player I’ve ever coached in terms of positioning and understanding the game – just his knowledge.” He’s also a hard worker – countless articles reference the development of a reasonably effective mid-range jump shot between his junior and senior seasons.

And amid all the reports of him instructing youth basketball camps, I couldn’t find find a single report of an arrest or embarrassment. Although he was benched once for missing a school assignment during his freshman year.

Complimenting his hard work off the court and high basketball IQ is merely fallback praise. He’s done everything he was supposed to do, and now what? He’s stuck less than a year out of school, the slot on the roster, which wasn’t even guaranteed to him, is locked-out and he’s no longer eligible to play for the team and coach that allowed him to flourish.

He’s just another unemployed 22 year-old. Except, not really.

No one feels bad for the worst player in the NBA because they are the worst player in the NBA. They reached a level of success that only a fraction of a percent of anyone who has ever picked up a basketball achieve, even if it’s only for a moment, as they walk across the stage in an awkward suit and shake David Stern’s hand.

In lieu of a 76’ers contract, Lavoy Allen just signed a contract to play for Strasbourg Illkirch Graffenstaden Basket in France. He has said that if when the lockout is resolved, he’ll be back in the US to earn a spot on the team that has the rights to his homegrown talent.

Maybe by then he’ll have that smile and handshake down.

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