Before he finished his first interview as a Jazzman, Grayson Allen got the only endorsement that matters.
Donovan Mitchell drove past cameras and onto the set where the one-time Duke star was fielding questions after he was drafted. Then he pulled Allen in for a hug.
“[The Jazz] can do so many things as you saw this season,” said Mitchell, voice hoarse. “Adding a guy like [Allen], you know, he’s an elite scorer, great defender, plays unselfish — man, we got a good one in him.”
The former ACC competitors are about to be teammates. And the Utah Jazz hope the 22-year-old guard can be a helpful addition to a team that is looking for its third straight playoff berth next season.
Allen was the pick at No. 21, earning the nod from the Jazz after reportedly dominating a workout earlier this month with fellow prospects Aaron Holiday, Jalen Brunson and Khyri Thomas. He also reportedly wooed Utah with maturity and character, helping assuage doubts about those traits after several ugly tripping incidents during his college career.
While Allen is one of the best-known villains coming out of college basketball, he said he doesn’t think it will take long for him to change hearts and minds in the Jazz fanbase.
“When fans see me night in and night out on the court, and the love that I have for the game, the passion that I have for the game, and how much I want to represent the Utah Jazz, the team I play for, in a great way, and how much love I have for the team, it’ll happen right away,” he said. “It’s a lot different watching a guy night in and night out than watching the same three clips for the last three years.”
Allen is one of the most well-established (and oldest) players in the NBA draft, starting 97 games at Duke, where he played an instrumental role in winning the 2015 NCAA championship — beating Utah in the Sweet 16 along the way. As a senior, he averaged 15.5 points and 4.6 assists per game while sharing roles with two top-10 draft picks Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. Allen is a career 38 percent 3-point shooter in his four seasons with the Blue Devils.
Some of Allen’s most memorable college moments, however, have been ones he’d probably rather the world forget. Several times, Allen has been caught by cameras attempting to trip opponents, building a reputation as one of college basketball’s great heels. Some of his clips include spats with Mitchell, who played against Allen for two seasons when he was at Louisville.
But the Jazz were persuaded by a strong performance at the NBA Combine, an impressive in-person workout and a series of interviews that convinced them that Allen would fit the mold the team refers to as “Jazz DNA.” The Jazz hope that those incidents are behind him, but they were also drawn to his burning desire to win.
“He and I were totally on the same page,” general manager Dennis Lindsey said. “We don’t want that fire, that competitiveness to go anywhere.”
Coach Quin Snyder is also a Duke alum, which made Allen feel like he understands the Utah organization well.
Allen views himself as an off-ball shooter and cutter, a player who has learned the value of passing and doesn’t want to take the ball off the dribble too often. His background playing with lottery talent helped enhance his draft stock for the Jazz.
“He talked about what he had to sacrifice when he decided to stay,” Lindsey said. “And look, he’s going to have to sacrifice here as a young player. The fact that he had done that three out of four years at Duke, we were impressed with.”
It’s Utah’s first pick from Duke since picking Rodney Hood in the 2014 NBA Draft, who was selected 23rd overall — also with a reputation as a great shooter.
The move followed an surprising number of slides on draft night, highlighted by Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. falling from a potential top-5 pick to No. 14 with the Denver Nuggets. Players linked to the Jazz in the pre-draft process — including Zhaire Smith, Donte DiVincenzo and Kevin Huerter — were selected in the first 20 picks.
It was quite a night for Allen, who not only made a long-anticipated jump to the NBA, but further mended fences with Mitchell, whom he called a friend.
“It’s really cool when you get a warm welcome,” he said. “It calms any nerves you have about joining a new team.”
With Mitchell vouching for him, it might well calm the nerves of Jazz fans, too.