SALT LAKE CITY — The NBA schedule has forced second-year Nets center Jarrett Allen to run a gauntlet of matchups against All-Stars, with games against hulking pivots Andre Drummond of the Pistons and Steven Adams of the Thunder followed by a matchup with Rudy Gobert of the Jazz Saturday night at Vivint Smart Home Center. But Allen has reached the point where he’s able to shrug it off as just another day at the office.
“I feel a lot of nights I play against pretty high-level guys, so, I don’t think it’s a big step up,” said Allen, who doesn’t turn 21 until April 21. “It’s definitely a different level of guy with Gobert, but otherwise not really. He’s long and athletic, high IQ, knows where he wants to be, knows when to jump [to block] shots and where to be. So, it’s going to be a good challenge.”
What is becoming increasingly evident is that veteran centers also have their hands full with the athletic, 6-11 Allen, who can’t yet match their strength but can outrun them and jump with most anyone. Allen’s rim protection has been a key to the Nets’ improved defense, but he’s also developing into an important option at the offensive end.
In the five games before facing the Jazz, Allen shot 82.1 percent from the field (23 of 28). In 11 games since the All-Star break, that figure dips only slightly to 71.6 percent on 48-for-67 shooting, and he has recorded four double-doubles in that stretch.
“I didn’t even know that,” Allen said with delight when told of his 82.1 percent shooting following practice on Friday.
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson scoffed when he heard that number. “Yeah, because all he does is dunk the ball,” Atkinson said. “Which is what we want him to do. We want him to shoot corner threes, but he’s more comfortable closer to the basket right now. A lot of that is him in the pick-and-roll, rolling to the rim, and his offensive rebounding has picked up. It seems like he’s had a new lease on energy lately.”
As much as he might hope to develop Allen into a so-called “stretch five” with the ability to pose a threat from three-point range, Atkinson has been thrilled with Allen’s progress.
“He’s just 21 years old and to be a starting center in this league, when you really look at it, arguably he’s in the top 10 or 15 centers in the league in my personal opinion,” Atkinson said. “Can Jarrett Allen at 25 be a top-five center, a top-three center, a top center? That’s the kind of talent I think he has.”
Allen, who is averaging 11.2 points and 8.4 rebounds, currently ranks seventh in the NBA with 146 dunks, 12th in blocks with a 1.5 average and eighth in field-goal percentage at 59.2.
Lately, Allen has become expert at running the pick-and-roll, setting screens for point guards D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie and then rolling to the basket for a potential pass or lob. Allen explained he’s modeling his game on what Amar'e Stoudemire did with Steve Nash when they played for the Suns.
The way defenses are blitzing Russell and Dinwiddie recently has opened up more lobs for Allen, who said, “I think it’s been there for a while. They’re starting to look. I’ve been talking to them because the option’s there to throw the lob.
“They’ve got to get used to throwing it again because we haven’t had as much as last year. Even if I don’t dunk it, I’m coming down with it and dunking it after that. So, I’m putting more trust in them to know I score off of it.”
Sounds as if Allen’s confidence is growing along with his game.