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In DLo and Big Jay, Nets’ future is coming into focus

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NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Brooklyn Nets Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

When the Nets future arrives, fans and pundits alike may look back to June 22 of last year, Draft Night, as the point when that future started to come into focus. At the end of the first round, the Nets took 6’11” Texas center Jarrett Allen. Then not long after, NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum announced, “We have a trade,” signaling that the Brook Lopez for D’Angelo Russell deal, reported two days earlier, was official.

Allen, still only 19, and Russell, just turned 22, look like the core that Sean Marks will build on. After not really playing much together early on —Allen wasn’t starting, then Russell wasn’t playing— the two are finally showing what they can do, particularly in the pick-and-roll.

“It’s the quarterback throwing to the tight end,” Kenny Atkinson said after practice Thursday as Greg Logan recounts in Newsday. “That connection is vital. You think about combinations like Chris Paul and Tyson Chandler, Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire.”

A bit of coach hyperbole? Almost certainly, but Atkinson legitimately likes the possibilities the pairing brings his team, even now.

“You’ve got to have that partner in the pick-and-roll. That was our vision of Jarrett that he was going to be our roller to the rim to suck the defense in, and you need a distributor to get it to him. Caris [LeVert] and him had a great connection, and now, D’Angelo is starting to play more with Jarrett because they’re in that starting unit and they’re starting to get a good chemistry.”

Russell found Allen on three pick-and-roll plays for easy baskets in Brooklyn’s 111-104 win over Orlando. Russell finished with 16 points and 12 assists, his second double-digit dime total in three games while Allen who had trouble early on with Nikola Vucevic got had close to a double-double, with 15 points and eight rebounds, shooting 66.7 percent. The suggestion that Allen might have hit the rookie wall was put aside for one night.

A few of DLo’s assists were eye-openers, even for his pick-and-roll partner.

“It’s amazing,” Allen said of Russell’s court vision. “It’s like, ‘Man, how did the ball get there?’ It just ends up in your hands. He’s an amazing passer.

“Me and ‘DLo,’ we actually talk quite a bit about how to make the pick-and-roll work. He gives me tips on how to get myself open and get him open. This was a display of what we’ve been talking about.”

Russell did his part in the mutual admiration society.

“He’s the prototype ‘big’ the way the league is going with guys that can run and set screens and defend at the same time. He has every tool. It’s going to be real scary down the road for him. I don’t think he knows how good he is yet. But we see it. We’re struggling, but we see how good he’s going to be.”

The coach agreed and explained how Russell does it. Not with eye-popping jumping ability but something more subtle.

“He really manipulated the pick-and-roll to his advantage,” Atkinson said of Russell after the Magic game. “He knows how to get angles. He’s not a downhill speedy player, but he knows how to get an angle. He knows someone bites on the perimeter or on the roll. He has elite vision. I thought he was really good tonight.”

Atkinson also admitted to James Herbert of CBS Sports that Allen has surprised the Nets brain trust, saying training camp caused them to revise their planning for the teenager.

“I think training camp, after a couple of days, I said, ‘Wait a second,’” Atkinson recalled. “The idea was, like, oh, he’ll be spending a lot of time in the G League and he’s 19, he’s gotta get so much stronger. I think after a couple of days of training camp, we were like, man, this guy is better than we thought, farther along.”

The duo is by no means a finished product and there are other players, like Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie who showed this season what they can do down. But DLo and Big Jay look like that franchise future and June 22 looks like a starting point.