Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Padding the Stats: Teddy Buckets, Burger Boy Sallis and Booker’s All-Star Case

February 24, 2021

Teddy Buckets

“It don’t mean nothing. We came up short.”

That was Teddy Allen’s reaction after dropping 41 points on 24 shots while grabbing eight rebounds and dishing out six assists in Nebraska’s 86-83 loss to Penn State on Tuesday night.

That’s what he should have said, and knowing how competitive Allen is, I think he truly meant it. Teddy wasn’t going to sing his own praises because of the final score, so let me do it for him.

What Allen did Tuesday night was one of the most impressive things I’ve seen in college basketball this season. SID extraordinaire Shamus McKnight ran a search on Sports-Reference.com and found that Allen is one of just four high-major players in the last decade with at least 40 points, eight boards and six assists in a game.

The other three? Buddy Hield, Ben Simmons and Trae Young. That’s pretty darn good company. He is also just the second Big Ten player to drop a 40-piece this season. Iowa’s Luka Garza is the other, and he did it against Southern.

Allen tied Aleks Maric for the second-highest scoring game in program history, one point behind Eric Piatkowski’s school record of 42. He set the record for most points in a half with 28 and set a new Pinnacle Bank Arena record for points in a game. He also tied Marvin Stewart’s program record with 16 made field goals.

Allen is no stranger to 40-point games. He had seven of them in his two years at Boys Town, and I was court-side for a couple of them. He did it four more times last year at Western Nebraska Community College. But doing it against a Big Ten team? That’s tough.

“I feel the same way every game,” Allen said. “It’s just the ball finds you in different ways sometimes, some nights. I just kind of took the same approach as always … I think I’m a playmaker. I just try to score the ball. I feel like if I have the ball enough times, I’ll make plays like that. It’s just a matter of how the game presents itself.”

Allen scored in almost every way imaginable in the first half. Pull-up 3? Cash. Catch-and-shoot 3? Money. Float game? On lock. Transition slam? Did that. Bully ball finish? Check. Euro-step around a would-be charge-taker into a reverse layup? Too easy.

In the second half, Penn State started loading up more to make life tougher on Allen. He still added 13 more points to his total, but he took advantage of the extra attention sent his way to get his teammates involved. He fed Derrick Walker for two layups (one of which was a three-point play) and a dunk and also found Thorir Thorbjarnarson for an important corner 3.

“Teddy was phenomenal, kept us in it in that first half with a 28-point half, and then I thought he really made good plays when they started blitzing him and some really good rim rolls by Derrick to get to the rim,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said.

Teddy Allen certainly has his flaws, but I don’t think he’s getting enough credit for how good he’s been offensively this season considering the situation he’s in with lackluster point guard play, no true post threat and very little floor spacing. He’s now averaging 17.8points on 54.4% from the field, 38.6% from 3 and 69.6% from the free-throw line.

I feel like he’s really settled in to how Nebraska needs him to play recently as well; he’s done a better job of looking to make plays for others as well as himself with 16 assists in his last six games (compared to 19 in his first 14 games), and he’s shooting the ball much better from the arc and the stripe recently.

Teddy’s playing some really good basketball. He needs some help.

Burger Boy

Millard North senior and 5-star recruit Hunter Sallis was one of 24 boys nationally named to the McDonald’s All-American teams on Tuesday.

Sallis is just the second boy from Nebraska to earn the honor, joining Creighton Prep’s Kerry Trotter (1982). Shelby-Rising City’s Chatrice White was also a McDonald’s All-American on the girls side in 2014.

Unfortunately, the game has been canceled for the second straight year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sallis won’t get the chance to share the court with the other elite players in the 2021 class and represent the 402. This year’s selections will be celebrated during a virtual ceremony down the road.

Even though we won’t get to see the Mustangs star play int he game, it’s still an incredible honor and a testament to the kind of player Sallis has become. I phrased it that way because he wasn’t pegged as a future star coming out of middle school; that was Chucky Hepburn, and the Bellevue West point guard and future Wisconsin Badger certainly has lived up to that billing.

Sallis actually played with Hepburn and a handful of other really talented players in middle school, and he was overshadowed a bit. He wasn’t a day-one starter at Millard North like Hepburn was at Bellevue West either. But Sallis kept working on his game and body and he flourished into a dynamic player during his sophomore year.

Sallis played some of his best basketball at the right time and caught the eye of notable talent evaluators and coaches. His rise up the rankings began and the offers started flooding in. Now he’s an All-American and will be choosing between some of the best programs in the country in late March.

Whether you’re fortunate enough to be able to attend games in person or you’re following along at home via streams, enjoy these last couple weeks of Sallis. We probably won’t be seeing another one like him for some time (that goes for Hepburn as well, for that matter).

All-Star Talk

Allow me to transition from All-Americans to All-Stars to wrap things up. The NBA announced its All-Star reserves on Tuesday night, and it’s hard to argue against too many of the selections. There are a lot of players having phenomenal seasons in the league this year.

Those of you who follow me on Twitter probably figured out that I’m a Phoenix Suns fan, and this has been the most enjoyable season of Suns basketball in over a decade. One of the biggest reasons for that is Chris Paul, and he was among the All-Star selections on Tuesday night.

The Point God is now an 11-time All-Star, and he’s taking a team that started to learn how to win in the Bubble at the tail end of last season (the Suns went 8-0 in Orlando) and elevated it to one of the best records in the NBA. Phoenix is 20-10 this season, the fourth-best record in the league. He is a basketball savant and it has been a joy to watch him running the show for my team.

However, his backcourt mate in Devin Booker was not among the seven reserve selections for the Western Conference. Now, I could get all worked up and start shouting from the rooftops about how unfair that is, but I won’t. I’ll let other players do it instead.

Anthony Davis was named an All-Star reserve, but he’s on the shelf until after the All-Star break. So Adam Silver will name a replacement from the Western Conference at some point soon and it’s possible that could be Booker.

Booker is averaging 24.7 points on a 56.1 effective field goal percentage and 4.3 assists for a top-five team in the league, record-wise. Good numbers, but not necessarily anything too crazy.

I honestly wouldn’t have too much of an issue with him missing the cut based on the way he started the season. Booker had a tough time adjusting to the changes the Suns made and he and Paul struggled to figure out how best to play with each other early on. In fact, they’re still working their way through that. Booker turned the ball over a ton and wasn’t shooting the ball particularly well early.

However, he’s gotten better and better as he’s settled in and over the last month Booker has averaged 26.8 points on a 63.7 true shooting percentage and 4.5 assists, and he’s cut down on his turnovers quite a bit too. Most importantly, the Suns are 10-2 during that time. He’s been playing like one of the best players in the league over the last month.

Booker made his first All-Star game as a replacement for the injured Damian Lillard last season, but the truth is he had been playing like an All-Star the past two seasons. The Suns just weren’t winning, so what he was doing wasn’t taken seriously. Now the Suns are finally winning and he’s left out while Zion Williamson, Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic and Julius Randle all made the cut despite playing for sub-.500 teams? All I ask for is a little consistency.

I’ll let Taylor Rooks have the last word.

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