LOS ANGELES — When 19-year-old Nets rookie center Jarrett Allen faced off against 29-year-old former All-Star DeAndre Jordan three weeks ago at Barclays Center, it was a classic man-versus-boy scenario. The 6-11, 265-pound Clippers center had a 31-pound weight advantage that he put to good use to score 16 points and grab 17 rebounds in a blowout win over the Nets.
Coach Kenny Atkinson limited his rookie to just 18 minutes in that game, and he scored eight points and had four rebounds, which ranked as his weakest performance in 13 starts, over which he has averaged 13.2 points and 7.5 rebounds with three double-doubles. But Atkinson said he expected Allen to play more minutes in the rematch Sunday night at Staples Center.
“He’s got to do it,” Atkinson said. “We’re asking him to be a starting center. You can say he’s [overmatched against Jordan], but we’re not going to do the matchup thing. We’re not bringing Timmy Mozgov off the bench. We want Jarrett Allen to learn how to play against these guys.
“I think that’s where development comes. We’re going to reap the benefits down the road. DeAndre makes a lot of guys look silly because he’s so big and strong. But if Jarrett Allen is going to be a starting center, he’s got to learn how to play this guy. This summer, he’s going to have a picture of DeAndre Jordan in his room, and he’s going to do 10 more pushups.”
Allen couldn’t suppress a smile following practice on Saturday at UCLA while recalling his first test against Jordan. “Being a rookie coming in, that’s a big guy,” Allen said. “He’s going to be a big challenge to play against. It’s just how he maneuvers in the paint . . . Strong centers, he’s definitely one of the top. He’s just a bulky dude. He’s hard to move. You can see the power when he goes up for a rebound.”
Despite that poor showing the first time around against Jordan, the 6-11, 234-pound Allen has been impressive at both ends of the floor since moving into the starting lineup. His field goal percentage is 59.1 primarily because he stopped attempting so many touch shots around the rim and simply focused on going for power dunks while operating mainly in the pick-and-roll.
In the Nets’ last win over the Bulls on Monday, Allen went up over fellow rookie Lauri Markkanen to posterize and flatten him with a tomahawk slam that was prominent in the SportsCenter highlights that night. “I’m not shy about going in there,” Allen said. “It was just one of those type of plays.”
Atkinson and assistant Bret Brielmaier, who works closely with Allen, encouraged him early on to take a more aggressive approach in the paint. Allen said there was a point about 20 games into the season when it clicked, and he realized he could use his quickness to beat defenders to the rim.
“One game, I was like, ‘I’m going to start dunking it. No more layups,’ ” Allen said. “Me and Bret call it the launch pad. It’s like, ‘Go off the launch pad. And dunk everything.’ It works, so, I’m not going to change it.
“You have to learn you belong in the league. Me knowing I can do that helps me know I belong here . . . I’d say [my teammates] became more comfortable with me, and I’m more confident in myself. When those things come together, that’s why I’m getting all these dunks.”
Despite the size and strength difference he is surrendering to Jordan, Allen was looking forward to the rematch. “If I disrupt him and I’m able to play good defense on pick-and-rolls,” Allen said, “if I’m able to do that, we have a better chance of winning.”