Jarrett Allen: Optimistic … and a reason for optimism

It’s January 31 and Jarrett Allen is working with Nets assistant Bret Brielmaier two hours before tip off. Allen is set to make his second start in the NBA.

The 6’11” rookie goes in for a weak layup and Brelmaier stops the workout, looks right at Jarrett and says emphatically, “You know where that ball is going? Right into the stands!”

Allen gathers himself and rattles the rim with a dunk on the next drill. Brelmeir praises him. Progress.

The Brooklyn Nets knew they got a steal with Jarrett Allen with the 22nd pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. The 19-year-old big man from Texas with a 7’6” wingspan has become one of the cornerstones of the franchise and has spoken on how he would like to be the face of the franchise one day.

It was a match from the day he and his family met with Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson.

“I remember when I first walked in to meet Kenny and Sean it was me and my family, and Kenny had a meeting with all of us and they just told me how invested they were in me. The vision they had for me.

“They even talked to my family and told them all of that, so you feel a sense of being wanted, being a part of what they’re building here. It seems like a big part of the culture here,” said Allen in an interview with NetsDaily.

It’s a big part of the culture here in Brooklyn. Welcoming families of players and letting them know how things work. Allen was barely 19-years-old when he first met with the Nets. He’s a kid from Texas who just moved to Brooklyn. He’s a professional athlete, but he’s also still human… and very young.

He said he appreciated that experience and likes the approach, but what impressed him most is how much they believed in him. Kenny Atkinson knew he might have found something special before the season even started.

“We’re talking about a modern 5 man in this league. He kind of fits the bill. I’d been bothering Sean like, ‘Hey can we get a guy, that kind of player, in our system.’ Listen, I don’t want to make the guy Kareem Abdul-Jabbar right off the bat, but I’m definitely excited about him,” Atkinson said at the preseason press conference.

The tall Texas has been one of the silver linings during the 28-win season. Before the season, most thought he would start off in the G-League since he was considered “raw”. Mocks said he lacked passion for the game, and so his stock dropped on draft night. He missed the NBA Summer League because of a minor hip injury.

He never saw a minute in the G-League, but he also didn’t get too much time in the first half of the season, averaging just 15.3 minutes in the first two months. Adjusting to the speed and the strength of the NBA versus college was his biggest challenge.

“It’s a big difference – strength-wise, speed-wise, just everything really,” Allen told us. “You’re guarding guys like Kyrie Irving, Steph Curry. You don’t really get guys like that where you’re put in a position to switch on them and cover them. Then you have people that are taller than me or stronger than me – guys like Joel Embiid where you have to cover them in the post and out on the perimeter.”

In fact, If you talk to Atkinson, one of the first things he’ll admit he’s most impressed with is Allen’s ability to stick with quicker players for a guy his size. He’ll also be the first to tell you that he needs to get in the gym and get stronger if he wants to take his game to the next level. Because, truth be told, he was often out-matched by stronger centers.

“You can already see him maturing, he’s already getting stronger and a summer with our performance team, we’re very excited about him. He’s doing it on both ends too right, it’s not just, obviously the pick-and-roll stuff and the pivots and the dunks and all that is great. It’s a big part of our offense and then his defense is, obviously, rim protecting and his agility,” Atkinson said in early February.

At that point, Allen had started two games and it was just the beginning for him. He started showing signs of improvement in several areas, particularly as a rim runner, shot blocker, and presence in the pick-and-roll.

He fits the ‘lobs and blocks’ script Marks and Atkinson cherish so much. Even his ability to his get his hands dirty for a tap-out, these are all crucial things in Atkinson’s offense. The big man, unless a stretch big, isn’t necessarily the focal point of the offense. The ball is constantly swinging around the perimeter with guys moving off the ball to get open. Post-ups aren’t part of the modern system because they slow down the pace.

“In college I had so many more post-ups than I do here, which I’m fine with. I know my role here and I know it’s different than college,” said Allen, whose embraced his role but clamored for more minutes midseason.

Atkinson listened.

He got his first start on January 31 and has finished the season on a high note, averaging 9.4 points, six rebounds and 1.4 blocked shots on 63 percent shooting in 22 minutes per game. He finished first among rookies for blocks per game with 1.23. Rim-protecting has been perhaps his biggest feat.

In a small sample size, he joined Yao Ming (2002-03), Kenyon Martin (2000-01), Lamar Odom (1999-00) and Tim Duncan (1997-98) as the only rookies in the last 20 years to block four or more shots in three straight games.

While there may not be many “untouchable” pieces, he’s as close as they come for the Nets. He understands the importance of patience in the rebuild but he’s also optimistic the Nets can feed off the positives from this season.

“We lost a lot of games, but in light of the losing we had a lot of opportunities to see where we are. You know, you look at games we’ve had against a team like Toronto and how we stuck with them until the last minute. There’s a lot of positives that don’t show in our record,” he said.

“We have a great future ahead of us. It’s like what I said about competing with teams like Toronto. We have young guys and we’ve shown what we can do. It’s about improving on it.”

He speaks well, he’s very smart, plays well and he possesses that demeanor, that high-character personality that Marks and Atkinson cherish so much. He wasn’t exactly the focal point this season, but that may change in the future.

”Funny, with the really good ones, you know right away,” an amped-up Atkinson said after his first start. “Not that I’m some savant, but I knew. His demeanor. Obviously, the talent he has. But he’s got a maturity about him that most 20-year-olds don’t have.”

Atkinson isn’t the only NBA coach who’s been impressed. Mike Fratello raved about Allen in his end of season summary on YES.

“As a player, the development is really outstanding. This young man, coming in, looked like a timid calf out there trying to feel his way. And through the hard work and strength conditioning program they put him on, this is a guy who you could count on for double digit scoring. His rebounding got better and better. He understood what a shot blocker was supposed to do as far a protecting the rim.”

Fratello also pointed out something else in Allen’s favor as he grows offensively.

“I’m really impressed with his hands. When they throw it above the rim, when they throw it below on bounce passes, he comes up with the ball in traffic and be able to finish. He had an incredible field goal percentage. And he’s just a youngster! This is a terrific pick up by them.”

Whatever the plan may be in the future, Jarrett Allen is certainly the center of it. Literally and figuratively. His next step is bulking up so he isn’t getting pushed around by bigger centers down low.

Otherwise, he’s looking like a steal for Brooklyn. Ask one of the guys taken ahead of him…

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HIGHLIGHT OF THE SEASON

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