When the Jazz selected Duke star Grayson Allen with the 21st pick in the NBA draft this past summer, many fans reacted to the move with some skepticism.
After all, he not only played the same position as Donovan Mitchell — last season’s first-round pick and the team’s breakout offensive star — but he had a reputation for bad behavior after a series of tripping incidents with the Blue Devils, and despite his rising stock during the draft process, he was perceived as perhaps having limited upside as a result of being a four-year college player.
The flip side to that, though, was the assumption that he’d be a more polished, complete player, someone potentially capable of earning rotation minutes right away. That school of thought got a boost when Allen turned in several impressive performances in the preseason — hitting five 3s and scoring 19 points against the Perth Wildcats, nailing four more treys and totaling 16 points vs. the Adelaide 36ers, then turning in an efficient shooting night en route to 14 points against the Sacramento Kings.
Since then, though, the positive moments have been a bit sparing for the rookie.
He’s bounced between the Jazz and the G League’s Salt Lake City Stars. Of the Jazz’s 54 games thus far, he’s been inactive 16 times, and a “Did Not Play - Coach’s Decision” 12 more. In the 26 games he’s appeared in, he’s hit double-figure scoring just twice, and is averaging just 4.2 points, 0.4 rebounds, and 0.7 assists in 10.4 minutes per game. His player efficiency rating is 4.0 (a league-average player is 15.0).
He knows better than anyone what a struggle it’s been, but he’s maintaining a positive attitude through it all.
“I feel like I’m improving, I feel like I’m getting better,” Allen said at Monday’s practice at Zions Bank Basketball Campus. “I can’t tell you one specific thing I need to work on — I think it’s a lot of different areas, and just finding my comfort out there on both ends of the floor. And that just comes from playing more, so every minute I get is helping.”
Of course, sometimes it’s been hard to give many of those to him.
Allen’s had serious struggles with both his shooting — 31.4 percent overall, 27.3 from deep, 40.0 eFG% — and his defense, which coach Quin Snyder has said multiple times is the area of in need of greatest improvement for the 23-year-old to get more consistent playing time.
Even the team’s depleted depth of late — with injuries to Ricky Rubio, Dante Exum, Raul Neto, and Thabo Sefolosha — has been no guarantee of Allen getting big minutes on the court. Starting with the Jan. 12 matchup vs. the Bulls (which ended a string of 14 consecutive games in which he was either inactive or did not play), Allen has appeared in nine of the last 11 games, in which he’s played as much as 24 minutes and as little as 45 seconds.
Mitchell, who works closely with Allen in group sessions during practices, preached patience — both from and for his teammate.
“His defense has improved tremendously since the beginning of the year. And that was really the big thing, for him to improve that. He’s made dramatic steps in that. Now it’s just a matter of getting reps,” Mitchell said. “His time will definitely come. … Shots will come and go, but the fact that his defense has picked up the way it has is really, really special. That’s been my message to him — stay with it; it’s not just all gonna come at the same time, it’ll be different pieces and different parts, and then at one time, it’ll all build for you.”
Allen said teammates told him to expect that this would be the point of the season in which fatigue would likely set in, and conceded, “I haven’t even been playing the minutes that other guys have, and I can feel it.”
Meanwhile, he’s doing his best to maintain some perspective and keep up his confidence, which has been made easier through the constant support of his teammates.
“I get encouragement from them every day, every game, to just stick with it. Every game I have Jae [Crowder] or Joe [Ingles] telling me to stay ready; most of the times they say that, about five minutes later I’m checking into the game,” Allen said. “… I’m obviously making mistakes on both ends of the floor, [and they’re telling me] to keep my head up, and don’t get too [down about] it. It’s really easy for me when I’m only playing a short amount of minutes to really dwell on one play or one mistake, but that’s not what’s gonna be good for me in the long run.”
GRAYSON ALLEN BY THE NUMBERS
Games played • 26
Minutes per game • 10.4
Points • 4.2
Rebounds • 0.4
Assists • 0.7
Steals • 0.1
FG% • 41.4
3P% • 27.3
Season-high points • 11 (Oct. 28 at Dallas)
Season-high minutes • 27:12 (Nov. 2 vs. Memphis)