SALT LAKE CITY — With the lowering of a shoulder, the new-and-improved Grayson Allen looked a lot like the old Grayson Allen.
Which is to say the borderline-and-beyond Allen.
There was a short dust-up in the third quarter of the Jazz’s 92-87 summer league win over Atlanta, Thursday. It wasn’t terribly scandalous, as no one was hospitalized. Nobody threw a punch. Still, heat-of-the-moment foolishness was Allen’s failing throughout his college career at Duke, where he was suspended for a game after getting caught tripping opponents a third time.
So here comes the part where peace-loving Utahns have to wonder. Do they cheer him? They did at Vivint Arena on Thursday. Do they scold him? Or simply ignore him?
In most cases, Jazz fans are left to ask themselves: “What’s in it for me?”
If it means winning games, they’ll be fine.
The one thing Allen did confirm is that all the talking he did on draft night about being competitive but mature remains a work in progress. He looked against the Hawks to be the same Allen who tripped, grabbed and undercut opponents in college, becoming the country’s premier villain.
To his credit, he walked away from Thursday’s skirmish. But not before he got in a fairly cheap shot.
The incident occurred with 8:35 left in the third quarter. Atlanta rookie Trae Young was attempting to clear the ball under heavy pressure from Allen. Appearing to reach for the ball, Allen hooked arms with Young. As they untangled, Young followed through in an overhand swinging motion. Allen, who was slightly bent over, lowered his shoulder and lunged into Young’s stomach. Officials rushed to prevent escalation, whistling a double technical.
There were good reasons why the Jazz took Allen with the 21st draft pick, last month. He has a 40-inch vertical. The Jazz say he can shoot, though Thursday’s 2-for-13 display didn’t offer much evidence. They also say he’s tough. In today’s NBA it’s hard not to desire that. But this is where it gets murky. Dirty or spirited — you be the judge.
Young was never in danger of being injured by Allen’s shoulder and wasn’t blameless himself. But the fact remains that Allen is more famous for his temper than his jumper. The scuffle overshadowed a productive performance, poor shooting notwithstanding: three steals, six rebounds and eight assists.
Those are numbers Jazz fans can live with. They cheered lustily on Allen’s behalf, which was entirely predictable. Villainy and virtue are in the eye of the beholder. When the Jazz selected Allen, the decision triggered a vague sense of “Huh?” among Utahns. Duke fans loved him. Jazz fans not so much.
But they seem willing to learn.
It’s not as though Allen is easy to love from a distance. His demeanor is one of petulance and poor sportsmanship. Up closer, it’s a different vibe. Asked on draft night if he needed to win over Jazz fans, given his reputation, he said, “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.”
He said, “When I get out and play with that kind of competitive fire and passion and emotion, they’ll respect it.”
Detroit fans respected Bill Laimbeer. Boston fans prized Danny Ainge. Jazz fans adore Jae Crowder’s feistiness and Joe Ingles’ saltiness. But for now, Allen still needs to prove he’s not just a hothead who could hurt his team in heated games.39 comments on this story
After Thursday’s contest he was Mature Grayson, exchanging congratulations with Young. During the contest he was Questionable Grayson.
“I mean it’s competing,” he told Jazz sideline reporter Kristen Kenney. “Sometimes there are moments like that when you’re playing with high emotion.”
And there are times you have to ask: Too soon?
Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey has said, “Hopefully he won’t cross the line. If he does, he’ll be held accountable. But we’re very confident on who he is.”
Trouble is, right now he's looking too much like who he was.