In all of his 6-foot-11 splendor, Jarrett Allen absolutely looks like a historical throwback.
From his stylish afro and headband combination to his emphatic, backboard-shaking slam dunks, it’d be easy to mistake the rookie with a hard-nosed enforcer from a different era entirely. While Allen, 19, would have fit in just fine alongside Julius Erving and the Nets during their ABA championship-winning years back in the mid-1970s, present-day Brooklyn is certainly glad he’s their newest top prospect.
After the lottery-projected center slipped to the Nets at No. 22 overall in June’s draft, the initial returns on Allen have been stellar. Just three months into his professional career, Allen has become a necessary mainstay in head coach Kenny Atkinson’s young rotation. Allen’s hyper-athleticism and ability to contribute on both sides of the floor make him an invaluable piece of the puzzle, even if his current season averages don’t tell the full story. Although the Nets haven’t fully unleashed Allen, matching him against All-Stars like Anthony Davis and Al Horford is still one hell of an NBA welcome.
As a fast learner, there’s not much that surprises the teenager anymore — but on this night, Allen must exhale before recounting his experiences thus far.
“Yeah, it’s a long season,” Allen told Basketball Insiders. “In college, the season would be over already. But here we are, not even halfway through yet.”
Whether he’s throwing down a well-tossed lob or nonchalantly reaching up to swat away the opposition, Allen seems to add another highlight or two to his growing resume each game. Of course, the Nets have kept a majority of his opportunities as close as possible — 83.3 percent of his shots have come within 10 feet — but that’s only by design for now.
Allen may represent a picture perfect ode to a previous day and age, but he won’t be left behind by this generation’s defining attribute for complete frontcourt players either. Nowadays, even the largest, tallest athletes are expected to leave the paint and effectively stretch the floor. Three-point wielding big men Chris Bosh and Kevin Love were once an aberration, but elite unicorns like Kristaps Porzingis, Nikola Jokic and Karl-Anthony Towns have changed the positions forever.
Naturally, Allen is ready to keep pace.
“It’s always been the goal,” Allen said about adding three-point range to his game. “I was working on that with [Texas University], it just didn’t make it into the game.”
In his single season at Texas, Allen went 0-for-7 from deep — but for the Nets, shooting three-pointers is hardly considered an option. Atkinson, regarded as a player development specialist, is credited with revolutionizing Brook Lopez’s entire offensive game nine years into his NBA career. As the story goes, Lopez had taken just 31 regular season three-point attempts before Atkinson’s arrival and converted on just three of them. Under new coaching, Lopez exploded in his final campaign with Brooklyn, hitting 134 of his 387 attempts (34.6 percent) from long range.
For a 7-footer that had barely acknowledged the three-point line in close to 500 prior contests, that extension was a game-changer for Lopez. Now, Atkinson will hope to put Allen through the same type of transformation. At the moment, Allen wasn’t ready to produce any predictions, but he already recognizes the potential benefit of long-range marksmanship.
“Honestly, I don’t even know yet — but it’s going to add a lot more to my game,” Allen said. “If they have to start closing out to me on the three-point line, I can make plays off of that.”
The Nets have been careful with Allen so far, always ensuring that he doesn’t get overmatched during crucial moments. But with the departure of Trevor Booker and Jahlil Okafor’s status still in flux, Allen has slowly seen his workload increase as of late. Over the last 15 games, Allen has upped his season averages to 7.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in only 18.4 minutes per contest.
If the training wheels were once on Allen, his head coach is surely finding it more and more difficult to keep his promising center tethered down.
“[Allen is] more aggressive, he’s screening better — obviously, him and Caris have something in the pick and roll, that’s getting downhill,” Atkinson said. “Then defensively, I think he’s more active, he’s protecting the rim more . . . I think with him it’s consistency right now. It’s like two good games and then that third game, it’s like: ‘OK, what do we get in that third game?’”
The up-and-down nature of an unpolished teenager is expected, but the Nets have done well to put Allen in situations to succeed. As Timofey Mozgov continues to fade from the rotation, Allen has excelled with the aforementioned Caris LeVert and Brooklyn’s backups, a second unit that averages 45.9 points per game — the second-highest total in the NBA. In fact, during the Nets’ recent victories over the Miami HEAT and Orlando Magic, LeVert assisted Allen on seven of his 12 made baskets. Allen maintains that the connection between him and LeVert has been there from the beginning (he said: “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it”) but the Nets will be excited to watch that partnership bloom either way.
“I think he’s starting to catch his rhythm a little bit, he’s playing better,” Atkinson said. “We just love everything about him — his demeanor, his work ethic — being around him every day has just been great for the program.”
Even so, this year’s rookie class has been statistically dominated by the likes of Ben Simmons (16 points, 8.6 rebounds and 7.5 assists), Donovan Mitchell (18.2 points, 3.4 assists) and Jayson Tatum (14.1 points, 5.6 rebounds), so Allen’s ascent has been largely missed by the general public.
At this point, the lack of chatter is just something the center is used to.
“It doesn’t bother me or anything, it’s been like that my whole life,” Allen told Basketball Insiders. “No one really talked about me a lot, which I’m fine with — that’s how it is.”
But if Allen continues on at this pace, he’ll be tough to ignore.
Most strikingly, however, has been Allen’s penchant for the spectacular, often in moments that have ranged from rim-rattling finishes to terrifyingly easy rejections. Back in a disappointing 15-point loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, Allen blocked Anthony Davis not once, but twice in a one-minute span.
While that experience might be overwhelming for another newcomer, Allen has taken a refreshingly simple outlook on everything.
“When the ball goes up, everybody is everybody,” Allen said. “I’ve been hearing that my whole life — your draft numbers don’t matter, your age doesn’t matter. When the ball goes up, everybody is there to play and so am I.”
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