With his parents at his side on Monday, 2018 first-round draft pick Grayson Allen signed his contract with the Utah Jazz, bringing an official start to the former Duke star’s NBA career in the Beehive State.
Hours later, in front of legendary former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, longtime assistant coach Phil Johnson and former star center Mark Eaton, along with 11,000-plus other fans in the stands at Vivint Smart Home Arena, Allen showed flashes of just why Utah spent that precious first-round selection on the highly touted prospect.
Allen is a microcosm of everything the Jazz have been since — well, since Sloan took over as head coach way back in 1988. Before that, it was all about players like Pete Maravich, Adrian Dantley, and — yes — John Stockton and Karl Malone. After Sloan took over, it was Stockton and Malone running the pick-and-roll and hard-nosed, physical and at-times-controversial defense that turned Utah from an also-ran to a perennial Western Conference contender. (If only it hadn’t been for Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and those Chicago Bulls teams.)
Allen is the kind of player Sloan no doubt would have loved to have on his squad. He’s a skilled distributor on offense, as evidenced by his seven assists in Utah’s summer-league win over the San Antonio Spurs on Monday night. He’s not afraid to be aggressive and drive to the basket on his own, though his shot wasn’t falling on Monday.
He admitted in his postgame press conference that he needs to focus on improving his footwork on the defensive end, but the effort was undeniable. The kid has one speed, and that’s full speed ahead.
And, yes, he does have a bit of a nastiness to his game that Sloan and late former Detroit Pistons coach Chuck Daly both loved. Stockton and Isiah Thomas didn’t get where they were as basketball players by playing soft or lethargic. While Allen’s opponent-tripping antics at Duke won’t fly in the NBA, his aggressive nature sure will. As long as he doesn’t cross the line between chippy and flat-out dirty, he’ll be just fine.
Now, it’s way too early to anoint Allen as the next big thing in Utah. It’s one game into summer-league play. He and Jazz summer-league coach Mike Wells both saw plenty of things he can work on, and young Utah superstar-in-the-making Donovan Mitchell was giving him pointers on the sideline throughout Monday’s game. There are going to be some first-year growing pains for Allen as he tries to pick up Jazz head coach Quin Snyder’s system and as he adjusts to the faster-paced NBA game.
But the potential for him to be an integral part of Utah’s success going forward is definitely there. If nothing else, he certainly fits the Jazz mold.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. He believes the Jazz are putting together a team that should be among the top squads in the West for years to come. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.