At about 2 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon, 16 hours after his NBA debut, Brooklyn Nets’ 6’11” rookie center Jarrett Allen was seen taking jumpshots from the left elbow, each attempt followed by a word of encouragement ... and a return pass ... from head coach, Kenny Atkinson.
It was non-stop.
Immediately after every shot, Atkinson would receive a pass from a rebounder, thrust the ball back into Allen’s hands, leaving no breaks in between reps. Highly personal attention.
Allen was still wearing a yellow jersey from an intrasquad scrimmage that had ended moments earlier. The sweat from his brow neatly broken by an all-white headband, which resides at the base of his trademark perfectly rounded afro.
It’s here to stay.
“I’m going to keep the afro; it’s always going to be an afro,” said the 19-year-old with a smile, acknowledging he has a look, a brand. “That’s always been my style. People are going to talk about my headband and say ‘hey, you’re ugly’ and I don’t really care. It’s my look and I feel comfortable playing like this. They (the fans) won’t have to worry about it going away.”
And neither is his jump shot.
Allen, who was drafted to eventually succeed Brook Lopez at the 5, plays an alien brand of basketball compared to the new Los Angeles Laker.
That perfectly shaped ‘fro may be old school NBA, but his game is anything but.
“The way the NBA is going now, it’s less back-to-the-basket and more shooting shots,” he said. “Whatever I can do to expand on my game and grow more, that’s what I’m going to do. For every big man, they dream of shooting more shots. I’ve always wanted to do it, and now that I’m in this type of system, coach wants me to expand too.”
Allen’s the mold of a new school center. He’s close to 7-feet tall with a wingspan of over 7’5.” He can run the floor from end to end. In his one year at the University of Texas, he gained a rep as an athletic, defensive-minded big, with an ability to improve his offensive game and become a well-rounded pro.
At Texas, the 22nd pick in the first round averaged 13.4 points and grabbed 8.5 rebounds while recording 51 blocks in 33 games. His team didn’t do well, and his gifts weren’t fully exploited.
He also scarcely took mid-range jump shots, and only jacked up seven three-pointers the entire season, making none.
Still, he worked at it throughout the course of his lone campaign in Austin, and now Atkinson has given him the green light.
… To practice them, that is.
“In college I was working on it, but I didn’t build up the confidence to shoot it in the games,” Allen said. “But now that I have the freedom from talking to coach, I’m going to do it more this year.”
And where is that confidence on a scale of 1 to 10?
“I’d say it’s about a 6. I still have to grow. I still have to shoot more.”
Atkinson insists that while he’d like everyone to make themselves a threat any and every way they can on offense, Allen is miles away from becoming Lopez, if that’s ever in the cards. But the Net head coach adds that he believes Allen will get it, as a result of his rigorous work ethic and willingness to be coached.
“Yeah he’s got a ways to go. I think that’s an area of improvement for him,” said Atkinson on Wednesday. “That’s the development part where 80 percent of the time we’re working on catching-and-shooting mid-range and the last part we’ll see if he could stretch it a little. Everything is new for him – I think the way he works, how diligent he is and how smart he is, he’s going to figure it out. That’s just my unbridled feeling.”
The jump shot isn’t a huge emphasis either. Atkinson and Allen understand that his role is not to become Matt Bonner. At least not yet for the Texan who turned 19 in April.
“No, not now. No, no, no. I think with Mozgov and Zeller (also), we told those guys we need them to stretch it sometimes, especially when we play pick-and-roll, if they can sit back there and make that three, to keep the defense honest,” Atkinson said.
“It’s about keeping those rim protectors (thinking) ‘should I go or shouldn’t I go?’ It’s just part of the geometry of good offense. But with him (Allen) it’s really NBA 1-0-1. It’s just what we’re doing, what our defensive coverages are. We’re on A-B-C now and not at X-Y-Z- yet.”
“In the first game, I think we saw part of my role,” added Allen. “Getting rebounds, blocking shots. That’s going to be one of my main goals, getting better there. Then me getting better on the offensive end – getting offensive rebounds, working on back-to-the-basket scoring, and working on what I’m working on now, which is shooting. It’s a mixture of all that.”
In his taste of the NBA (he missed Summer League due to a pre-draft injury), Allen displayed glimpses of what he could do, specifically on defense, and on the boards. In 13 minutes off the bench, he didn’t score, but grabbed five rebounds (three on offense), and made a thunderous block.
It was a great starting point for Allen, who is also adjusting to life outside the court, living away from home for the first time, and in the big city at that.
On that front, Jeremy Lin has been a most helpful teammate, advising Allen to cook more.
“I’ve talked to Jeremy about it and he’s saying he cooks a lot at home, so I’m trying to cook more so I can eat more, and eat out less. Now, I have to go pay my bills,” he said, followed by a laugh. “I have to cook for myself – it’s just trying to adjust to the lifestyle of being by myself. In college I was living 20 minutes away from home. I had all the holidays back at home. It’s a little different, but I’m adjusting well.”
Perhaps, with the help of some of those meals, we’ll be witness to the evolution of a freakishly athletic teenager to what the Nets hope he can be. After all, they had him as a top 10 player on their internal mock draft.
Rightfully so. And if the jumper becomes a fixture, then blooms into a threat for NBA defenses ... the new age center with the 1970s style will be a thing.
For now, he’ll continue to work on it, signaling that the ‘fro ... and the stroke ... are here to stay.