Rookie Grayson Allen remains a work in progress for the Jazz, but the early signs are encouraging

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Utah Jazz introduce their top draft pick Grayson Allen in Salt Lake City, Wednesday June 27, 2018.

In the months after Grayson Allen’s Duke team went down in the Elite Eight to No. 1 seed Kansas, Grayson Allen’s NBA stock went up.

ESPN’s mock draft tells the story. In April, he was slated to be selected No. 33, by Memphis. In May, he was predicted as the 30th pick, to Atlanta. In the first week of June, he’d moved up to No. 28, Golden State’s pick. By June 19, a couple of days before the draft, he was going to be the 25th pick (the Lakers’ selection). And on the day of the draft he’d found a home, in the mock drafts and the real one, in Utah’s 21st pick.

How did he do it?

By all accounts, he dominated at least two workouts. Utah’s infatuation with Allen really bloomed when he came to Salt Lake City for a workout with three other first-round guard prospects (UCLA’s Aaron Holiday, Villanova’s Jalen Brunson, and Creighton’s Khyri Thomas). Allen owned the workout on both ends of the floor, by all accounts.

Maybe the most important one from a draft stock point of view was his performance at CAA’s Pro Day, in which Allen put on a show in front of scouts from all 30 NBA teams, including Jazz assistant GM David Morway.

It wasn’t just Morway who was there for the Jazz. Donovan Mitchell, a CAA client, was too. There, he texted Morway, “Grayson at 21?"

After that, the Jazz weren’t the only team at the end of the first round interested in Allen. On draft day, both the Warriors and the Celtics sent the Jazz trade offers for the No. 21 pick to acquire Allen, per multiple sources. The Jazz turned them down and kept their man.

So far, he seems to be repaying the Jazz’s faith. Allen is in the top 10 in rookie scoring during the preseason with a 12.6 scoring average, up there with lottery names like Trae Young, Miles Bridges, and Marvin Bagley Jr. His quick and accurate trigger early has been impressive, to the tune of 51 percent shooting overall and 52 percent from 3. He’s had the chance to show off his vertical athleticism a few times, too. Preseason isn’t everything, but it’s a promising start.

More important to the Jazz, though, is how Allen’s been working to improve his game. He’s been training extensively with assistant coach Johnnie Bryant, who found significant success training Paul Millsap, Gordon Hayward, and then Donovan Mitchell to stardom. Bryant often pairs Allen and Mitchell together in drills.

Since training camp, Jae Crowder typically joins in as Allen’s “vet,” and despite appearances, it’s a natural fit: Crowder can teach Allen how to channel his competitive spirit for the good of his team, not to the detriment of it.

But despite good play so far, there are still legitimate questions as to what Allen’s role will be on the team this year. The biggest factor is whether or not Allen’s defense can catch up to the rest of the roster in time for him to play minutes in Snyder’s rotation. Snyder is notoriously a defense-first coach, and Allen is a part of a crowded guard rotation.

“I know Coach Snyder wants the team to be a really good defensive team, like elite,” Allen said. “So if I’m out there, I need to add to that. Defense is the first thing that will get me into the rotation or minutes on the floor, whatever it is.”

While Snyder’s coaching roots are from Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, they ask for different things on the defensive end of the floor. So Allen has to learn new habits and adapt to the speed of the NBA game simultaneously.

“I’ve been given different habits for four years, and I need to break some of them,” Allen said. “And there’s more space on the floor, too, so if I’m standing straight up and down, I’m not going to be quick enough to the help spot then recover back out to my man. You always have to be in a stance.”

Allen is confident that through hours and hours of “shell drills” and other defensive practice, he’ll be able to be an asset on that end.

Regardless of whether it comes immediately or not for Allen, the Jazz think he can become an impact player in the playoffs, when it really matters.

“We wanted to get tougher. We wanted to get more competitive,” Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey said. “You guys saw what the playoffs are like. Your skills don’t come out unless you can stand your ground."