No matter who the future starts with, it probably goes through Jarrett Allen.
The 19-year-old near seven-footer, arrived in Brooklyn as the 22nd overall draft choice last June, the same night that the Nets officially traded their all-time center Brook Lopez. With seven games to go, Allen has seen the highs and lows of an NBA season first-hand.
A hip injury caused him to miss summer league, and while his head coach, Kenny Atkinson, raved about him from day one, it took Allen three months to crack the starting line-up, where he finally found a measure of consistency as an NBA center.
But recently, Atkinson says the young Texan has hit a wall, expected of all NBA rookies this time of year. In 10 games prior to Wednesday night’s showing in Orlando, Allen saw his averages drop to 7.4 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. That followed what was his best stretch, a 16-game set from January 23 to March 1 when he was good for 12.9 points, 7.4 rebounds while shooting 67.2% from the field.
“I do think his energy has been more sporadic of late and I do think that’s just the grind of a 19-year-old player, starting now, finishing games often,” Atkinson said of Allen last week. “I just think it’s a toll the season takes. I also think it’s going to make him better. Like, ‘man, this offseason, I really gotta get stronger and really get my body even better to deal with this grind the NBA is.’”
Atkinson even said that Net plans may or may not entail a summer league stint for the soon-to-be sophomore Allen. It would be the first step for a player the Nets see as a focal point of the 2018-19 season, when they expect to see the first of several breakouts.
“We haven’t made a decision on that. It’s something that we have to talk about,” said Atkinson. “He didn’t have a full offseason with us. So it will be great to get a full offseason under his belt. You’ll see a much improved player.”
Allen is all for it, though, he doesn’t know what the plan is yet, either. He’s already been schooled by teammates, like Caris LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, on the advantages of July basketball in Las Vegas.
“I know they (the Nets) are going to put me in the best position possible to put me ready for next season, and I know they want me lifting a lot of weights,” he said, smiling, seated in his locker during a conversation with NetsDaily following Sunday’s home loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“I really don’t know. My mindset is, I’m thinking I’m going to play Summer League – I’m open to it. Obviously, I didn’t play Summer League, so I don’t know what it’s all about, but from what I hear from Caris and Rondae, they say it’s so different (from college). It’s like, you’re really coming into the league, basically.”
Regarding that rookie wall, Allen doesn’t think he’s reached that point. Although his once vibrant stat sheets and visual impact have cooled off slightly, he assures us that he’s not suffering from physical exhaustion or mishaps. It’s all adjustment and Wednesday vs. the Magic, he put up 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting (including a miss from the corner) and grabbed eight rebounds. He did have problems early with Nikola Vucevic, as he’s had with other stronger, more experienced bigs. Vucevic finished with 24, 15, and five.
Allen did hint at possible mental weariness, though, which is normal of NBA rookies (and even some veterans) as we near April, and for some, playoff time.
“I would say I’m probably a little mentally fatigued, but that’s probably everybody else in the league (smiles),” he said. “I’m finding out it’s a long season, but other than that my body feels good. I’m ready to go out there, play, and contribute.”
At the moment, Allen is top-15 scorer amongst rookies at 8.1 points per game, top-three in field goal percentage (58.4%), and top-10 in free throw percentage (79%).
On the boards, he’s second in offensive rebounds per game at 2.1 while near the top-five in overall rebounding at 5.4, and rebounds per-48 minutes at 13.2. And with 67 blocks, he’s been a top shot swatter all year, again, all among rookies.
“I think I’ve done pretty well,” Allen says of his rookie campaign. “I’ve exceeded a lot of expectations, even for myself. (My expectations were to) block shots; play a lot of defense (laughs). I didn’t expect all the offense to come, it just came naturally – and I’m enjoying it, it’s been a good one for me.”
Allen isn’t Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but Atkinson has joked in the past that the Net center may as well be considering how delighted his head coach is when talking about him.
“Kenny, he’s a good guy, I like being around him, I like having him as my coach,” Allen said. “This is good, just having the coaching staff believe in me, I believe they’re going to help me be the best player I can be.”
Asked if the public praise adds pressure, Allen replied, “Nah … nah,” before chuckling one more time. That smile perhaps serves as an avatar for his excitement for what is, and what could be. A healthy number of Net fans, though disgruntled with a third straight 20-something win season, share the same sentiment regarding their big of the future, and of the right now.