- Jarrett Allen has emerged as a threat on both sides of the floor, blocking dunk attempts from some of the biggest names in basketball and finishing thunderous dunks of his own. Both a talented lob threat and significant rim deterrent, his play will be crucial to the Nets' playoff push.
BROOKLYN — Jarrett Allen’s first test of the season came less than six minutes into opening night as the Nets faced the Pistons at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit. Blake Griffin bullied his way past Brooklyn sharpshooter Joe Harris on the right elbow with 6:30 remaining in the first quarter, then elevated toward the rim to attempt a thunderous one-hand slam. But Griffin couldn’t complete another patented poster. Instead, Allen met Griffin at the peak of his jump, spiking the ball back onto the hardwood. A wry smile emerged on Allen’s face as the Nets’ bench leapt in celebration. The tone for a new season was set.
“I think that play kind of energized us a little bit to play harder, and everyone fed off that energy a bit,” Allen told The Crossover. “It was a good way to start the season, get an exciting play early in our first quarter.”
Allen racked up the rejections as the Nets climbed in the East standings through February. He denied Giannis Antetokounmpo a lefty jam in late December, then blocked Anthony Davis four days later as the calendar turned to January. The sophomore center made perhaps the play of his career on Dec. 18, meeting LeBron James at the summit in the opening minutes at the Barclays Center. Brooklyn sent Los Angeles back to the West coast with a 115-110 defeat.
The big-name rejections are no coincidence. Allen relishes the task of swatting some of the NBA’s top stars, unafraid of ending up on the wrong side of a highlight reel. His fearlessness has been infectious in Brooklyn, fueling a cast of youngsters and well-traveled veterans as the Nets aim for their first playoff appearance since 2015.
“Jarrett getting a block or a big dunk can be big for us,” Nets forward Treveon Graham said. “He’s energetic, ready to play every night like a lot of our guys. It’s all we can ask for.”
Brooklyn’s young center continues to grow in his second year. Allen was still a quality shot blocker as a rookie after one season at Texas, leading all first-year players with 88 rejections in 2017-18. But he was largely a boom-or-bust swatter, lost as the anchor of Brooklyn’s back line. He lost cutters on the baseline, allowed weakside rebounders to grab misses and struggled to stick with guards when stranded on an island. Allen met with head coach Kenny Atkinson after his rookie season and discussed their mutual goals for the following year.
“We talked about improving my defensive rebounding, being more of a force on the glass,” Allen said. “I’m still not where I want to be or where I need to be, but I still feel I’ve made big strides from last year. I want to keep making that an emphasis for my career.”
Allen has made significant improvements on both ends this season. He’s increased his points, rebounds and blocks per game in 2018-19, helping lift Brooklyn from a bottom-10 defense to league average. Allen is one of 11 players with 100-plus blocks this year. Opponents are making shots at the rim at a worse rate against Allen than Andre Drummond, DeAndre Jordan and Al Horford. The youngster also ranks eighth in dunks and only 14 players have made more field goals in the paint. He’s one of six players with over 100 dunks and 100 blocks, joining Davis and Rudy Gobert. Allen is long and a impressive leaper, both a talented lob threat and significant rim deterrent.
Allen projects to be a more versatile offensive presence than the likes of Drummond and Jordan. He’s a skilled passer off the roll and in the post, able to whip the ball to the corners and wings with either hand. Allen said he began expanding his range with Shaka Smart and the Longhorns, working to develop a passable three. He canned 22 of 30 corner threes in warmups before Brooklyn’s battle with Cleveland on Wednesday, but the in-game triples are still a work in progress. Allen is just 6-32 from beyond the arc this season.
“We’re still trying to push [Allen] to make a corner three every once and awhile,” Atkinson said. “That would help. He is capable, I’m all for it. He doesn’t get a lot of opportunities now, but that’s something we can see down the line.”
The three-point evolution will likely be put on hold in the coming weeks. Brooklyn is now in the midst of a postseason sprint, emerging as a playoff team after a three 50-plus loss seasons. They'll rely on Allen’s interior tenacity down the stretch. Brooklyn enters the weekend No. 7 in the East at 34–33, but a playoff berth is far from guaranteed. Ten of the Nets’ final 15 games are on the road, with 12 matchups against teams .500 or better. As Brooklyn scraps for a playoff spot amid a crowded Eastern Conference, Allen will need his block party to continue for the Barclays Center to remain open into late April.