After two days of Nets training camp, it appears the battle at center between third-year starter Jarrett Allen and incoming former NBA All-Star DeAndre Jordan is what has caught the eye of coach Kenny Atkinson the most. Teaming a young, athletic shot-blocker in Allen with the defensive presence of Jordan, 31, gives Atkinson a variety of options.
After the opening training-camp practice on Saturday, Atkinson described the center position as the Nets’ “biggest strength” and said both played well. After the second practice on Sunday, it was more of the same.
“I think those guys both know that they’re competing for something,” Atkinson said.
“They went at it today a little bit. I saw a little jostling, a couple elbows. It’s good for Jarrett. DJ has a physicality about him. It’s going to make Jarrett get better, and Jarrett’s going to make Andre get better. They’ve both been really good. So where does it come out? The Nets will be stronger.”
Some have described Allen as the Nets’ most important player for the future, and he put together a highlight reel of blocked shots last season that included rejections of LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Blake Griffin, among other stars. But Allen struggled against 76ers big man Joel Embiid in the Nets’ first-round playoff loss. He was determined to add strength and is up to 237 pounds, but now he’s matched against the 265-pound heft of Jordan every day in practice.
“It’s been great,” Allen said. “Like everybody in the league, I’ve been in the weight room. So I’m able to show my strength against his. He’s a powerful guy. People say he’s getting older, but I don’t think that’s affecting his game that much.
“He has so much experience under his belt. He knows a lot of the plays, great passer. There’s a lot of things I can take from him plus he’s a great guy, so it’s easy to work with him . . . We’re bringing the best out of each other, and honestly, it couldn’t be a better challenge for me.”
After spending the first 10 years of his career with the Clippers, Jordan split last season between the Mavericks and Knicks, where he helped rookie center Mitchell Robinson develop. Jordan quickly took that role with Allen when they practiced with several other Nets during August in Los Angeles.
Allen said Jordan has helped him improve his positioning, and he’s also setting a strong example with his vocal presence on defense.
Off the court, Jordan has a sense of humor that is infectious.
“Oh, man, you only see him on the outside on the court,” Allen told reporters. “In the locker room, he’s a clown. But he kind of brings everybody together. When you have a whole team that’s able to laugh together, you play together well.”
Given the two-headed monster he now can utilize at center, Atkinson is toying with the idea of taking a tag-team approach this season.
“We’ve never really played the matchup game, but I think I’ll do that at that position this year,” he said. “It will be interesting to see what it looks like at the end of games.”