In a manner of speaking, the torch was passed from Brook Lopez to rookie Jarrett Allen in the Nets’ loss to the Lakers on Friday night at Barclays Center.
More than seven months after the trade that sent the Nets’ all-time leading scorer to Los Angeles, Allen made his third NBA start at center and held his own in a toe-to-toe battle with the player who spent most of the previous nine seasons in that position.
Lopez scored 19 points to help the Lakers earn a 102-99 win over the Nets. Allen had a career-high 20 points, shot 8-for-11 and added five rebounds and one block.
Describing what he felt going against Lopez, Allen said, “He was face of the franchise. Now I’m here trying to become the face, too. So just going back and forth, it was a good challenge.”
Allen’s “face of the franchise” comment wasn’t meant in a boastful fashion. In fact, point guard Spencer Dinwiddie said Allen’s notable “humility” and intelligence are the traits that have allowed him to progress at such a rapid rate.
Then Dinwiddie hit on the question mark that accompanied the No. 22 overall draft pick into the league. “I think the most underrated part about Jarrett is his passion,” Dinwiddie said. “I think he has a passion for the game of basketball and wants to win and wants to play. That’s part of the improvement. If he didn’t care, he wouldn’t keep improving.”
Reminded that the scouting reports on the 19-year-old who left Texas after one season questioned his effort, Dinwiddie laughed and said, “Why do you think I gave him that compliment?”
Heading into Sunday’s noon start against the Bucks at Barclays Center, Allen has scored in double figures in six straight games, averaging 13.7 points and 7.2 rebounds in that span. In his three starts, he has averaged 16.0 points and 7.0 rebounds and shot a phenomenal 82.6 percent from the field.
That last number is a product of 62 dunks, which surpasses the team-high 55 Lopez produced last season. During the month of January, Allen shot 72.2 percent, which led the NBA among players with a minimum of 70 field-goal attempts.
“He’s playing great basketball,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “He gets better with every game. I can’t wait until he spends a summer in the weight room and starts to get stronger. I think some of those rebounds, it’s just a matter of strength, and he’s going to get that. You can already see him maturing. He’s already getting stronger, and this summer with our performance team, we’re very excited about it.
“He’s doing it on both ends, too. He’s a big part of our offense, and then his defense is obviously rim-protecting and his agility.”
Two aspects of Allen’s game that have improved dramatically are his free-throw shooting and his ability to get open and convert low-post jumpers. Allen was a 56.4 percent free-throw shooter at Texas, but he’s a reliable 75.3 percent in the NBA.
Joe Harris, one of the Nets’ best outside shooters, noticed how quickly Allen has developed his inside moves.
“Jarrett has been playing amazing,” Harris said. “I didn’t know he had that left hand in him either. It seems like it’s either a dunk or he’s got that left hand working. Great touch around the basket.”
Now Allen not only is starting games but finishing them for Atkinson, going against Lopez and the best centers in the league. He’s grateful for the opportunity.
“Coach is starting to trust me more in the crunch time, in the important part of the game,” Allen said. “Me being in there, you can tell there is trust.”
And it’s only going to grow.