SALT LAKE CITY — Grayson Allen certainly got a warm welcome to the Utah Jazz.
Seconds after walking off the stage and being named the No. 21 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, and just as he was about to start his interview on ESPN, Jazz rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell approached Allen and gave him a big hug.
“When their leading scorer and really the guy who had the ball in his hands the most from last year comes and congratulates you and welcomes you right when you put the hat on, it feels good,” Allen said. “I already feel welcomed in Utah.”
That's appropriate, as Mitchell played a role in bringing Allen to Utah. CAA, who represents both Allen and Mitchell, hosted a pre-draft mini-camp with many of their prospects, which Mitchell attended. There, Mitchell was impressed with what Allen brought to the court, enough to text Jazz front office executive David Morway "Grayson at 21?"
From there, Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey asked Mitchell what he thought of Allen. According to Lindsey, Mitchell said, "He was tough to compete against, but I'd like to compete with him."
The buzz surrounding Allen really started after a quality workout in Salt Lake City, though. In his workout, Allen went up against Khyri Thomas, Aaron Holiday and Jalen Brunson, and apparently dominated the day. After that, Allen thought he had a chance to be elected by Utah.
“I got good feedback from them. They had the Duke connection with Coach (Quin) Snyder and Coach K. Coach K heard good feedback, too. My agent heard good feedback. So I knew it could be serious,” Allen said.
The pick wasn’t as well received by Jazz fans, many of whom are wary of Allen's history of ugly incidents on the court, especially tripping other players. Heck, he even got into it with Mitchell 2 years ago.
But the Jazz aren't worried about that at all, noting that he hasn't had any of those incidents in his senior season. They like his competitive spirit, channeled through growing maturity, and think he'll fit well within their scheme.
"Because he can dribble, pass, and shoot, because he's smart, because he's highly competitive, we're very confident he fits the program almost seamlessly," Lindsey said. "We wanted to get tougher. We wanted to get more competitive. You guys saw what the playoffs are like. Your skills don't come out unless you can stand your ground."
And about those fans, Allen thinks he’ll be able to win them over.
“I think when fans see me night in and night out, and the love that I have for the game, the passion 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 for the team, I think it'll happen right away,” Allen said. “It's a lot different to watch a guy play night in and night out than seeing the same three clips replayed for the last three years.”
That being said, there are some more real on-court question marks around Allen. He turns 23 before the season begins — one of the oldest prospects in the NBA draft. His statistics didn't improve after his sophomore season: he averaged 21.6 points per game that year, but only 15.5 points per game in 2017-18. He's touted as an elite shooter, but made just 37 percent of his 3-point shots from the college line. He tested well as an athlete at the combine, but didn’t always show those assets on the court at Duke, especially on the defensive end.
Allen, though, has answers to those questions.
“Sophomore year, it was getting to the rim, free throw line, some threes. My senior year it was 7-8 threes a game. I had to score in different spots because we had those two dominant guys inside. It's really improved my game, and it's made me more ready to come to the NBA because I've learned to adjust.” Allen said. “On the defensive end, I’m an athlete. I can put a focus in and make different plays. Get into passing lanes, become a better rebounder, and go up and make plays at the rim. Go up and challenge guys at the rim, even as a guard.”
And while Mitchell and Allen may have been rivals in college, Allen envisions himself as a great fit next to the Jazz’s rookie sensation.
"I think my best basketball is playing off the ball — playing next to Donovan Mitchell, giving him a lot of space; being a cutter, a shooter, a guy who plays off of him.”
Finally, unlike some prospects who have been drafted by the Jazz, he’s legitimately excited about coming to Salt Lake City.
“When I was out there, I was really excited to see the mountains and everything. I'm from Florida, so I don't see any change in elevation at all. For me, someone who loves outdoors and loves nature, Salt Lake City was beautiful.
“I couldn't be happier,” he added. “Utah is a great spot.”
In the second round, the Jazz traded away the No. 52 pick to the Houston Rockets, who drafted Vincent Edwards with the pick, in exchange for cash.