With Tyler Zeller sidelined by a sore hip Saturday night in Washington, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson was left with an intriguing choice of how to handle the center position while facing imposing Wizards big man Marcin Gortat. He started the more experienced Quincy Acy over veteran Jahlil Okafor and rookie Jarrett Allen but ultimately gave the lion’s share of minutes to the rookie.
Allen played a career-high 28:51, tied his career high of 16 points, shot 6-for-10 and added eight rebounds, which was one short of his career high. He played all but 16 seconds of the overtime period in a 119-113 loss.
Zeller is listed as probable to return against the Knicks in a 3 p.m. Martin Luther King Day matinee at Barclays Center, but Allen seems destined for a growing role, especially against Knicks big men Enes Kanter and Kristaps Porzingis.
“He’s going to be a heck of a player for us,” Atkinson said after Allen’s performance. “I thought he was great. It’s a physical team, but he had some great verticalities at the rim. He’s not shooting those floaters anymore. He’s going in and trying to dunk on people. I just like his spirit.”
The Nets trailed by 20 points in the first quarter before Allen entered and threw down three straight dunks. He had another dunk when the Nets overcame an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter to force overtime, then went 4-for-4 at the foul line in OT.
Describing how he seized the opportunity, Allen said: “Coach always says, ‘When one man is out, it’s time for the next man to step up.’ With Tyler out, that’s exactly what I did . . . Playing in the full overtime, I have never done that before. It’s big-time minutes. It’s definitely an experience for me.”
Allen said his recent surge in aggressive dunks — often the result of his pick-and-roll chemistry with backup point guard Caris Le Vert — is a conscious thing.
“You’re not going to make it in the league with all of the floaters, playing against all of these top guys,” Allen said. “The easiest thing to do is dunk it, so that’s what I tried to do.”
In that same vein, Allen lately has picked up more offensive fouls for the hard picks he sets, but Atkinson has told him to keep doing it and not worry about fouls. The Nets could use more of the same against the Knicks, who won the first two games of the season series.
“He showed he could play on the big stage,” point guard Spencer Dinwiddie said of Allen. “He’s blossoming defensively. He’s finishing off plays, and his free throws in overtime were very big-time for him to come in with the crowd roaring and hit shots. We’re really proud of him, and we hope he continues to take those next steps.”