The back hallway of the gymnasium was quiet when Grayson Allen walked in alone, a touch jetlagged, carrying a plate of food. A year ago at this time, Allen was preparing to play in front of tens of thousands of fans as the Duke Blue Devils made a run to the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight. On this evening at Bruin Arena, there will be 1,604 in attendance, more than a few in tiaras and face paint for Fairy Tale Night.
While the Jazz were continuing their playoff push in Chicago, Allen was on assignment with the Salt Lake City Stars. This is March now. And for the rookie, there is still plenty at stake.
“This will set me up to contribute any way I can this year,” Allen said, “and even more next year.”
Allen knew playing time would be hard to come by during his rookie season. The 23-year-old has averaged 9.4 minutes during his 32 appearances with the Jazz during his first NBA campaign. So as he eyes a bigger role in the future, he’s fully embracing his time in the G League.
“As a basketball player, you want to play,” Allen said. “There’s only so much stuff I can go over doing one-on-one drills in practice and watching the team and watching film. It’s good to play five-on-five and get some experience out here.”
Allen has frequent conversations with Jazz head coach Quin Snyder about his development and when he’ll be assigned to the Stars. At times this season, the guard and his agent have even asked for G League assignments.
“They’ve hit us up. He wants to play,” Stars vice president of basketball operations Bart Taylor said. “He knows he’s a big part of what the Jazz are going to do in the future, and it starts here. To have that buy-in, to want to come and compete and help these guys make the playoffs, is awesome.”
Allen has averaged 16.3 points in his 12 games with the Stars—a number his teammates know could be much higher if he wanted.
“I’ve grown to respect Grayson as a person and a player,” two-way guard Naz Mitrou-Long said. “He’s fit right in. The guys love him. He shares the ball. He’s into everything we do. He can come down here and shoot any shot he wants, but he’s making the right plays. He’s getting after it on defense. He’s making plays at the rim and putting his body on the line.”
For Allen, the experience is about preparation: he wants to play the role he’ll play in the NBA.
“It’s similar to the way I would play if I was with the Jazz,” he said. “For me, that’s not coming down and taking the shot each time or dribbling the air out of the ball and trying to iso each time. Take good shoots. Take shots I would take with the Jazz. And, most importantly, defend.”
Allen’s defense is still a work in progress, but Stars head coach Martin Schiller has indeed seen progress on that front.
“We’re very focused on his defense because we know he’s a very talented player offensively,” Schiller said. “I think every game he’s played for us, he’s gotten better. It comes down to repetition. That’s why Coach Quin sent him to us, to get reps, to play and to guard, and to be critiqued and coached for every possession that he plays.”
And Allen will go just about anywhere to play.
After suiting up for the Stars on Tuesday night last week, Allen left Wednesday morning for New York to join the Jazz that night at Madison Square Garden. He traveled with the team to Atlanta for a game on Thursday and then took a commercial flight back to Salt Lake City on Friday to help the Stars win their season finale, setting them up for their first ever playoff berth.
“It’s been a lot of travel, but the fun part about it is I get to look forward to playing a game each night,” he said. “That’s what gets me through the flights.”