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Jahlil Okafor and Jarrett Allen showing why patience pays off

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Brooklyn Nets v New York Knicks Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Brooklyn’s big man rotation is undergoing a much-needed shift towards the youth movement. This means Jahlil Okafor and Jarrett Allen will be freed to play a little more time than we’re accustomed to.

Back in December, Fred Kerber asked Kenny Atkinson if Allen’s minutes would decrease with Okafor arriving in Brooklyn. “No. (We could play) Jarrett and Okafor together. Put Okafor at the 5,” said Atkinson, noting that Allen has played some 4.

He then asked Allen if the two can start together. “Yes,” said the 19-year-old, who then added, “I’m definitely comfortable. The 4 and 5 here are interchangeable.”

Judging from the last two games, the Nets look like they’re finally going to play Allen and Okafor together, not just at the 5. Atkinson played them together for the first time vs. the Timberwolves. Expect to see more of it.

“[Allen’s] been playing well. This is the next step for him. I thought it was going to happen later, probably All-Star break,” Atkinson said, before the Knicks game. “He’s clamoring for more minutes. Jahlil, too. Had a good game in Minnesota, wanted to see him get some minutes. That was the thinking there.”

Okafor played more than 20 minutes in consecutive games for the first time since last March. He dropped 21 points in 24 minutes against Minnesota, then just five points against the Knicks. But he grabbed 13 boards, which is a step in the right direction for the 22-year-old. It was the first time since December 2016 that he pulled down that many boards in a game.

“It’s very encouraging,” Okafor said. “I’m just doing the right thing every day, doing what they ask of me, and I’m being rewarded for it. That’s the reason you put the work in. It’s a good feeling. Hopefully, I can stay on the same trajectory.”

Allen also took a step in the right direction on Tuesday, earning his first starting nod and scoring 12 points on a perfect 6-of-6 shooting in 20 minutes. At 19, Allen is a quieter character in the locker room, but his confidence continues to grow. In the month of December, he’s shooting 71.2 percent (not a typo) overall and 1-of-1 from three.

Pundits saw Allen’s calm demeanor as a lack of love for the game. Turns out, it’s the opposite and he too has a chip on his shoulder.

“A lot of people I heard before the season started said that I was going to be in the G League. But I was able to prove them wrong and be in the position I’m in now. Honestly, I think I can improve a lot more before the season’s over,” Allen said after finishing in double figures for the fourth consecutive game.

Tyler Zeller logged a DNP-CD Tuesday and played only nine minutes on Saturday. Allen has likely taken his spot in the rotation. In fact, over the past two games, Okafor has played 48 minutes, Allen 38, and Zeller those nine. Even 6’10” James Webb III, the Nets new two-way player, has racked up 27.

It’s all about patience in Brooklyn. Allen was eased into this. He looked like Brooklyn’s most impactful big despite rookie mistakes. In his 41st game, he’s the starting center.

The frontline wasn’t the strongest. Zeller has done solid in his role, but he isn’t a starting caliber center. It’s too early to tell if Okafor and Allen are, but it looks like we’re going to find out soon.

The Nets have a different approach to development. It’s why Kenny Atkinson uses the word “integrate” so often. They play different. Okafor is finally earning minutes and scoring isn’t his issue. He needs to show that he can defend other bigs. The same goes for Allen.

Of course, a lot of those minutes have been apportioned out with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson down. There’s no timetable for his return. He’s out with a groin injury. Next man up.

As for Zeller...

“Tyler’s been really good for us, solid. I’ve been doing it, but it’s not easy playing three centers,” Atkinson said. “At some point — and not saying Tyler’s out of the rotation — but just finding that when we play two guys they get decent minutes, and also gets [Acy] at the five a little bit, which is some of our best lineups, honestly.”

Like we said, patience.