The Brooklyn Nets have surprised many this season as they’ve found themselves right in the middle of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference. It was five years ago when they last made the playoffs, and six years since they’ve had a winning record.
They currently sit in sixth place in the East as the NBA season enters its final stretch with a record of 38-37. A big part of their success thus far has been their center rotation. Second-year big man Jarrett Allen has firmly established himself as the team’s starting center, and veteran backup Ed Davis was a great free agent acquisition.
One year ago, Allen wasn’t expected to make an immediate contribution to the Nets, but my mid-season of his rookie year, he found himself in the starting lineup.
“It was a lot of hard work. I didn’t think I was going to come in and be a starter, I never thought that was going to happen,” Allen told Basketball Insiders. “I just kept doing what I was good at and Kenny [Atkinson] started to believe in me more and put me in the starting lineup.”
He played in 72 games as a rookie, including 31 starts, and put up 8.2 points per game on 58.9 percent shooting from the field while grabbing 5.4 rebounds. This season, he’s upped that to 11.2 points and 8.4 rebounds.
He’s also become the Nets fearless rim protector. This season alone, he’s had highlight blocks on star players such as LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, Anthony Davis and Blake Griffin.
“I try to be a defensive anchor, try to make sure the back line of the defense is set, and just play my hardest,” Allen told Basketball Insiders. “I think it’s an underrated part of the game. I just try to do my part for this team. Every team needs somebody who can protect the rim. That’s where I’ve come in and helped solve that.”
Although he’s become valued for his defense and rebounding, don’t let that mislead you. Allen can score if need be. He had a career-high 24 points this season back in November against the Clippers, one of a few 20+ point games he’s had this year.
He’s quick, however, to credit his scoring success to his playmakers though.
“I credit that to D’Lo and Spencer (Dinwiddie) finding me on the pick and roll,” Allen told Basketball Insiders. “I get them open off the pick and roll sometimes and they reward me.”
When Allen exits the game, the Nets are fortunate enough to have Davis replace him. Davis has quietly become one of the best backup centers in the NBA. The nine-year veteran has spent time with the Toronto Raptors, Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers before winding up in Brooklyn.
He credits the Nets front office’s pursuit in the summertime as being a primary reason why he chose to join the team as a free agent.
“They came out aggressive really. I felt I filled a need and it was close to home,” Davis told Basketball Insiders. “My agent was telling me good things about the organization so that had a lot to do with it.”
Davis has never been a prolific scorer since he’s been in the league, but his true value on this Nets team has been his knack for rebounding. That’s not to say he can’t score — Davis is one of the best in the NBA at putbacks off of offensive rebounds.
But his rebounding prowess off the bench has brought an added dimension to the team. This season, he’s averaging a career-high 8.7 rebounds per game and has had quite a few double-digit rebound games.
“It’s important basketball. We lost some games this year off of rebounding, we won some games. It makes a difference and that’s my job,” Davis told Basketball Insiders. “I bring that physicality, rebounding, defense, I do all the little things.”
Davis is one of the guys in the locker room who brings playoff experience from his days with the Grizzlies and Blazers. Although the majority of this Nets team is young and doesn’t have any playoff experience, he likes what he sees from this group.
“That’s our goal, that’s where we want to be,” Davis told Basketball Insiders. “If we get a good couple more wins this season, we’ll be alright.”
Allen agrees with the sentiment, and he also has seen how much of an impact the veteran leaders on the team have made as Brooklyn heads toward the postseason.
“I think we have a little bit more experience this season,” Allen told Basketball Insiders. “We have Ed Davis, Jared Dudley was brought in, we have more veteran presence on this team.”
Although it’s still quite sometime before the offseason rolls around, and the Nets still have postseason aspirations to focus on, Davis is thinking a bit to the decision he’ll have to make.
He’s thinking about the possibility of remaining in Brooklyn more long-term rather than just the one-year deal he signed last offseason.
“You never know how free agency goes,” Davis told Basketball Insiders. “I just take it one day at a time and whatever happens, happens.”
As for Allen, he’s definitely established himself as one of the team’s cornerstones, one of their building blocks for success to come. While he is focusing on the team’s playoff hunt, he’s taking this season as another opportunity for continued growth for the future.
“Being a full-time starter is different from being a backup big,” Allen told Basketball Insiders. “I think for me, it’s another learning. It’s an opportunity for me to grow even more.”
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