Grayson Allen sat at the podium in the bowels of Vivint Smart Home Arena, his first professional game behind him. He’s went through pre-draft workouts with the Utah Jazz, and after being picked in the first round, endured a three-day minicamp.
But Monday night, following a summer league win over the San Antonio Spurs, is when it finally hit him.
“It feels real now,” Allen said.
Ahead of Tuesday’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies — a game in which Allen will sit out for rest — the 6-foot-5 guard out of Duke put up an impressive stat line against the Spurs in a 92-76 win with 11 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. He flashed a terrific first step at times. At others, he made high-level passes to shooters on the perimeter.
But Allen wasn’t about to give himself a passing grade, not when he went 4-for-16 shooting from the field. On one sequence in the second half against San Antonio, Allen corralled an offensive rebound but missed a point-blank layup, shook his head and began muttering to himself on his way up the floor.
This is who Allen is, and always has been: fans, coaches, friends and family say there’s nobody more critical of Allen than he is on himself. Yet objectively, the Jazz were pleased with his performance even with an inconsistent jumper.
“I thought he was aggressive and we were pleased to see that,” Utah coach Mike Wells said. “He had eight rebounds and seven assists. He only had two turnovers. He’s only had a few days of practice. We liked that he was able to consistently get into the paint and put pressure on the rim. And when he did get into the paint, he had his eyes open. He played the way we want him to play.”
The acclimation period for rookies is usually significant. In Allen’s case, he’s played precious little 5-on-5 basketball since his final days at Duke. And it wasn’t just Allen on Monday night for the summer league’s star rookies; Atlanta’s Trae Young was 4 of 20 shooting and Spurs guard Lonnie Walker IV was 3 of 16. Only Memphis’ Jaren Jackson Jr. fared well with eight 3-pointers in the Grizzlies’ win over the Hawks.
Allen was able to balance his poor shooting with his floor game — and many of Allen’s misses were on open looks that should start falling as summer progresses. Even with some of his struggles, Allen felt like he belonged. The moment didn’t overwhelm him, especially mentally. When he made a negative play, he kept playing and didn’t let mistakes snowball.
Most importantly, Allen displayed the ability to play both guard spots. He was equally adept to making plays and creating shots off the dribble, or curling into the lane off screens. That versatility is one of the traits that endeared him most to the Jazz during the draft process.
“I felt comfortable,” Allen said. “Obviously the nerves were there. There was anxiousness and excitement, and that led me to speeding up a bit. But, I was comfortable within the offense. I had open looks, some I should’ve knocked down, but I definitely felt comfortable.”
As summer rolls on, Allen would like to shoot better. But keeping his turnovers to a minimum and defending well are priorities as well. Wells said he and the Jazz will continue to do different things with Allen to see how he responds.
“I just want to slow down and let the game come to me,” Allen said. “I want to take the easy shots, take the easy floaters when I get into the lane, take what the defense gives me. I don’t want to play too fast.”