SALT LAKE CITY — Grayson Allen immediately began making nice with Jazz fans by bro-hugging Donovan Mitchell at Thursday’s NBA draft.
It’s a start.
The Duke shooting guard brings his reputation as a petulant, immature and, yes, dirty player with him. He knows that. So do Jazz fans. Which makes it such a fascinating fit. That the Jazz would draft one of college basketball’s most reviled players says much, not the least being this: They’re serious about improving their long-range shooting.
Several years ago, Jazz coach Tom Nissalke laughed when asked about “high character” players.
“Give me a guy who can play,” he chuckled. “I’ll teach him character.”
The Jazz’s selection, with the 21st pick, isn’t necessarily a bad guy. But he has a reputation, though in the big picture it’s not all that scary. He hasn’t been accused of robbing a liquor store or dealing drugs. The Jazz have drafted others with far greater “character” problems. Robert Whaley had a statutory rape charge that ended in a mistrial in 2000, and assault charges stemming from a 2003 fight while in junior college. There were academic and disciplinary problems with his college coach at Cincinnati.
Shortly after joining the Jazz, Whaley was involved in a minor incident at a Park City club. He also was arrested outside a Salt Lake apartment with what police said were several bags of marijuana. In 2016, no longer with the Jazz, he was sentenced for burglarizing a Layton hotel.
Allen’s reputation for shoving, kicking and tripping opponents is, well, kids' stuff compared to the trouble that can happen. Luther Wright had drug issues and spent time in the Tooele County jail after being arrested in 1994. Olden Polynice was charged with shoplifting in college, and charged in Utah with impersonating an officer. Bernard King was arrested on five felony sex charges.
It appears Allen’s biggest crime so far is acting like a jerk.
“Hopefully he won’t cross the line. If he does, he’ll be held accountable,” said general manager Dennis Lindsey. “But we’re very confident on who he is.”
The third-team All-ACC player says he can quickly win over Jazz fans.
“I don’t think it will take long. I think the fans will see the love I have for the game, my passion I have for the game, and how much I want to represent the Utah Jazz and the team I play for in a great way — and I think it will happen right away,” Allen said.
“I think it will come quickly. It’s obviously something that has to be earned and I know Utah has great fans, very passionate fans, so it’s something that has to be earned. But I think when I get out and play with that kind of competitive fire and passion and emotion, they’ll respect it.”
The first step in any recovery is admission.
This year, the Jazz’s biggest needs were abundantly clear. They lacked perimeter scoring. They weren’t bad from beyond the arc — 12th in the league — but that was largely due to Joe Ingles, who finished fourth in 3-point shooting. If you take out Ingles’ 3-point percentage, the Jazz would be second worst.
So the Jazz — who eschew nothing more than controversy — made the controversial pick, a person who might have been the best shooter left in the draft. But both the Jazz and Allen have something to prove.
Allen actually might win over Jazz fans. He learned to embrace the vitriol from opposing fans — which in an offbeat way might have attracted the Jazz. They like a certain amount of chippiness. But dirtiness?
Allen says he’s working on that. He calls himself “calm” and “shy and introverted” off the court.13 comments on this story
A 38-percent shooter from distance, he took 276 3-pointers last year. He is among only five Duke players to score 1,900 points, staying four years, which makes him older than most. More mature?
He’s working on it.
Which still makes it a slightly risky choice for the Jazz.
It’s no coincidence Allen played at the same college as Quin Snyder. So you know the Jazz coach carefully checked with his sources about Allen’s ability to get along with teammates. But getting along with opponents?
If he makes enough 3s, nobody will complain.