Duke University, 2014.
In the 2014 NCAA basketball offseason, Duke University’s college basketball team saw a large amount of overturn. Eight players left the team that summer. This included Rodney Hood, a red shirt sophomore and team captain, as well as Jabari Parker, 2nd-overall draft pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, among others. With the overturn came a highly skilled recruiting class. Four acclaimed five-star recruits joined the Blue Devils. These recruits included future 3rd-overall pick Jahlil Okafor, future 10th-overall pick Justise Winslow, future 24th-overall pick Tyus Jones, and future 21st-overall pick Grayson Allen. Grayson was the first among these to commit to Duke University that summer. After the other three committed to Duke, the Blue Devils were ranked as having the number 1 recruiting class of 2014.
That spring, each of those four players were named to the McDonald’s All-America team. Tyus Jones won the skills competition, Jahlil Okafor won co-MVP of the game, and Grayson Allen won the dunk contest. This star-studded team went on to earn the number 1 seed in their respective region for the 2015 NCAA March Madness Tournament, and advanced round after round to finally face off against the Wisconsin Badgers in the championship game. It took the whole team to get to this point, but it was largely thanks to freshman role player Grayson Allen’s hustle and key plays down the stretch that Duke was able to win this National Championship Game. (Highlights of that performance here)
The following 2015-16 college season, Grayson Allen became the number one scoring option for Duke, averaging 21.6 points per game, shooting a scorching 41.7% from deep, and 83.7% from the free-throw line. Grayson got to the line 7 times a game, pulled down 4.6 rebounds a game, dished out 3.5 assists a game, and stole the ball 1.3 times a game. Had he declared for the draft after that monster of a season, he was predicted to have been drafted in the lottery of the first round. Grayson decided against declaring for the draft, and played out his remaining two years wearing the Duke-blue jerseys.
In the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons, Grayson’s role changed. He became a point guard, and while he would still have breakout scoring games from time to time, he only averaged 14.5 and 15.5 points per game over those two years. Playing alongside the likes of Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles, Luke Kennard, and Marvin Bagley meant that he took less shots in Duke Coach Mike Kryzyzewski’s offense.
Embracing his role as a primary point guard, and jack-of-all-trades, he blossomed in his senior year. His senior stat line of 15.5pts/3.3reb/4.6ast/1.7stl and 9.4 +/- with a 58% TS% are nothing to sneeze at. During draft workouts the summer after graduation, Grayson impressed a particular NBA team in Utah, and ended up being drafted by the Utah Jazz with the 21st pick of the 2018 NBA Draft.
A logjam at guard
Grayson was drafted to a Jazz team that already had a logjam at the guard position. His teammates include the internationally famed Ricky Rubio, sophomore star Donovan Mitchell, breakout two-way player Royce O’Neale, defensive virtuoso Dante Exum, veteran offensive spark Alec Burks, and Brazilian charmer Raul Neto. These players have all been starters for the Utah Jazz, and most of them have started for extended periods. Royce O’Neale has started in the least amount of games (4) for the team in a single season out of these players, with Alec Burks the next least of the bunch (27).
There is only so much playing time to divide between all of these well-deserving competitors. Which brings us to a question. Where does Grayson Allen fit? What does the rookie bring to the table that will force Coach Quin Snyder’s hand in putting him on the floor?
We have seen flashes of invaluable skills already from Grayson’s Summer League and Preseason performances. His famously scrappy style of play gets underneath his opponent’s skin. His hustle turns what would typically be a 50/50 ball into a 75/25 ball. His athleticism is not to be undervalued, as he has already shown flashes of being one of the most athletic players on the team.
As a four-year college player, Grayson has the advantage of coming into the league with a much higher level of polish. As he turned 23 on October 8th, he fits in with a crop of players who have already spent a few years in the league. For example, Dante Exum (23) is in his fifth season, and Donovan Mitchell (22) is in his second season. Four-year players tend to get a bad rap. Regardless, staying at Duke and rubbing shoulders with elite talent and a Hall of Famer coach seems to have done Grayson Allen some good. He has demonstrated an extremely high basketball IQ, with a fantastic understanding and feel for the game.
Grayson fits in perfectly as the type of guard coach Quin Snyder can work with. He makes good reads on plays. He is a team player. He brings hustle and energy to the floor. NBA spacing should do wonders for his 3pt shooting. He has a lightning-quick release to his shot that could develop into something Steph Curry-like in a couple years. He has the potential to be a major fastbreak and alley-oop threat with his athleticism. Playing alongside that star-level college talent, he has learned how to do the little things that make his teammates look good, which don’t necessarily fill the stat sheet. There is a lot to Grayson’s game that will put him on the court by the end of this season. Be that as it may, after mentioning his strengths, it would be remiss to look over his weaknesses. As a rookie, they are not few.
Unfortunately, defense is an area where Grayson can struggle at times. Coach Quin Snyder recently called Grayson out publicly in a media interview on his weak transition defense in particular. It is fair to say that in order to see time on the floor with the Utah Jazz, Grayson Allen will need to get better at defense. He has pretty solid positioning once the defense is set, and he is the type of player that knows where he needs to be. Grayson needs to come to the realization that in the NBA, defensive positioning is only half of the battle.
There are 24 seconds of defense that need to be played. Something notable that I have noticed is that Grayson will often put forth great effort on the first bit of a play, but once the other team starts moving into secondary and third options, he tends to fall asleep, allowing his man blow by him, or getting caught on a screen. That check-out mentality is a rookie habit that he will have to grow out of to be successful with the Utah Jazz.
Similarly, when Grayson is not involved in an offensive play, there are times where his eyes glaze over and he takes a break. These seem to be the points where he makes the most mistakes and turnovers. “Taking plays off” is a popular practice for stars in this league, and while rest may be justifiable for a star or starter who will be needed to put forth their best play at the end of the game, role players are going to be on the floor for less minutes. They get more down time to recover between stints. When playing 15-20 minutes or less a night, they should not need to be taking very many plays off. If he does find himself needing to take frequent plays off, I would hope that he increases his cardio regimen ASAP.
So what is his ceiling?
To help put things into perspective, I took a look at an old 2014 Sports Illustrated article on 4-year college players who became All-Stars in the NBA. Here is their “All-Four-Year Team” of players drafted before 2014:
Damian Lillard, Blazers | Weber State | 2012 No. 6 pick
David West, Pacers | Xavier | 2003 No. 8 pick
Tim Duncan, Spurs | Wake Forest | 1997 No. 1 pick
George Hill, Pacers | IUPUI | 2008 No. 26 pick
Jeremy Lin, Rockets | Harvard | undrafted
Wesley Matthews, Blazers | Marquette | undrafted
David Lee, Warriors | Florida | 2005 No. 30 pick
Roy Hibbert, Pacers | Georgetown | 2008 No. 17 pick
In this list, I find three good comps for Grayson Allen: Chandler Parsons, Wesley Matthews, and fellow Duke Blue Devil J.J. Redick. Both are sharpshooters, with Parsons a better playmaker, and Redick a pure off-ball scorer. In the best-case scenario, I envision Grayson Allen as a smaller version of Chandler Parsons. A solid starter who could potentially make a few all-star teams, barring injuries.
In another good scenario, a playmaking, rebound-grabbing version of J.J. Redick may be closer what we end up seeing. I feel this would look very much like Wesley Matthews on paper—although Wesley is more of a defensive specialist than we will likely see from Grayson. In 2013-14, one of Matthews’ best seasons, he averaged 16.4pts/3.5reb/2.4ast/0.9stl on 39.3% 3pt. Add a couple assists and subtract a little defense, and that could very well be what we see from Grayson. Grayson may end up being the type of player who is a consistent role player on a contender who helps you win games. He may be a starter for a few years, but ultimately find his niche coming off the bench for 20-28 minutes a night.
Worst-case scenario would be if Grayson did not put any work into the defensive end. It is hard to see him earning nearly as much playing time in that case—especially for the Jazz. In that world, he would be limited to 10-15 minutes a night, and possibly less if it were for a contending team. It is hard to imagine him falling out of the league entirely, even in this scenario, considering the strengths he has that are already apparent in his rookie preseason. For a floor comparison, I would suggest a player like Omri Casspi but adding significant athleticism.
All in all, Grayson Allen is an exciting edition to this young, fresh rendition of the Utah Jazz roster. He should be a regular fixture on the team this year, as we continue to shoot for our goal of an NBA championship. Thanks to the length of our players, many of the guards in the “logjam” will be able to try their hand at the Small Forward position, opening up some potential minutes for Grayson and others.
The prediction I made a few weeks ago still stands, that we will see Grayson Allen playing 20+ minutes a night by the end of this season, but it is entirely up to Grayson to make that happen.
Edit: After reviewing the statistics of the “All-Four-Year Team”, I decided to add Wesley Matthews as another player comp.