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Jarrett Allen is Brooklyn’s 20-year-old star in the making

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Houston Rockets John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports

The afro is old school. He speaks well beyond his years. His personal style is hardly flashy. He is who he is and is quite comfortable with it.

But don’t get it mixed up: Jarrett Allen is only 20-years-old and has shown that he’s a star in the making. That afro represents his old-soul character. His words, his tone, represent his I.Q. and professionalism. His flashiness is reflected by his actions on the court, not off.

Allen is seen as a cornerstone for the franchise and he’s an integral part of Brooklyn’s improbable playoff push. In what was perhaps the Nets’ biggest win since the move to Brooklyn, Allen became the fifth player in NBA history to finish with 20 points and 24 boards before turning 21-years-old.

The others? John Drew (1974-75), Shaquille O’Neal (1993-94), Dwight Howard (2005-06) and Andre Drummond (2013-14). Good company, I’d say.

“He’s just growing before our eyes… He’s been growing every year, and he’s going to keep getting better,” said 10-year veteran DeMarre Carroll. “The sky’s the limit for the kid.”

Another old soul on the Nets roster, Ed Davis, says he could be a rich man.

“Just trying to help him out as much as possible. I got big expectations for him,” Davis said last week. “I think he’s a $100 million player, so he’s got to go get it.”

Last night was yet another example of why guys who’ve been around the league know what the Nets have in Allen.

They were down seven with 1:28 left in overtime but trimmed it to four following a corner three from Treveon Graham (the game’s unsung hero). Needing a stop, Allen blocked James Nunnally’s shot, then came down on the offensive side and put home a layup and one to bring the Nets within two points, 41 seconds. He gave the Nets a chance to win, which they did.

“They were small, so we needed [Jarrett Allen],” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “He punished them early. They were switching everything, he rolled to the rim and we just threw it up to him, made them think.”

The Rockets were without their primary big, Clint Capela, which forced Mike D’Antoni to play a super small-ball style. The point of that type of system is to take as many three’s as they could, which they did – setting an NBA record for most three-point attempts in a game (70).

Atkinson explains how he probably would have matched the Rockets with a small lineup in the past, but instead chose to ride with Allen -- a sign of gaining trust.

“In past games we wouldn’t have kept Jarrett out there when they’re playing small-ball and we said,’ The heck with it, he’s playing so well, I don’t care if they have five guards out there.’”

But it wasn’t just last night that has people inside his locker and the executive suite excited. It’s his progress.

Over the last two games, Allen has scored 39 points, grabbed 36 rebounds, blocked seven shots… and hit the biggest shot of his young NBA career. He’s averaging 12 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocked shots to go along with 4.5 win shares – good for second in his class.

“You can argue he’s often our most important player,” Atkinson said before the Hawks game on January 9.

His maturity at such a young age is what strikes his fellow Nets the most. He was penciled in as a G League player when he was drafted last year, but he worked hard with Brooklyn’s development staff and made an immediate impact down low. This past summer, he got stronger and hungrier to be great, something draft pundits questioned leading up to the 2017 NBA Draft.

“He’s gotten stronger, he’s rebounding the ball better, and those were big points of emphasis for him this summer. His mobility at that size, his athleticism, the way he moves – it’s why we were attracted to him at the Draft, we saw the upside at 20-years-old,” Atkinson explained before the Hawks game.

It wasn’t just his maturity on the court, it was his maturity off the court – an articulate kid with a willingness to learn. No ego. He fits the script of what type of players the Nets want here. Family guy.

“I don’t think we would’ve won this a couple months ago. It shows our progression,” said Allen after the win over the Rockets, playing in his hometown state of Texas. “You always get the extra boost of confidence when the family is watching in the hometown. You can ask any player. But for me it was just the extra effort on the glass. They didn’t have a dominant rebounder in there.”

Indeed. Allen feasted on the Houston Rockets, who played without Capela – a player whose game the Nets once said they wanted Allen to replicate. But now he’s starting to look like he can be more than that and it’s only year two for him.

He’s also built a reputation for himself within the mass media for his blocks on several big-name players. People close to the Nets figured it was only a matter of time.

It started with a monstrous block on Blake Griffin in the preseason. Griffin tried to get revenge in the regular season by attempting a one-handed slam, but Allen sent him back in emphatic fashion.

Then, the block heard around the world: A rejection at the rim on LeBron James in front of a sold-out crowd at Barclays Center. It was just the ninth time in 1,850 dunk attempts that LeBron had been blocked. It is the leading candidate for dunk of the season.

Next was Giannis Antetokounmpo, who trotted down the floor and tried to put one down with his left hand. Allen had different intentions.

The same happened not once -- but twice – with Anthony Davis.

He wasn’t done blocking MVP candidates there. In Wednesday’s victory, he gummed James Harden’s dunk attempt as time expired in the first half. The most impressive part wasn’t the block. It was that he picked up Harden at the three-point line and was able to stick with him long enough to contest.

“He’s like our goalie back there,” Atkinson said after Allen record four blocked shots against the Boston Celtics earlier this week. “He protects the rim, he’s all over the place, we ask him to be in pick and roll defense, we ask him to protect the rim.”

He’s more than just a rim protector, though it’s his forte. He’s become an elite rebounder, including tapping out balls to save an offensive possession. He’s a solid rim-runner, good in the pick and roll, and a perfect culture fit for the organization going forward.

And he knows it.

In Brook Lopez’s first return to Barclays Center last year, Allen gave all credit to Lopez for being a “One-of-a-kind” player for the Nets. But then he echoed something that was out of character (in a good way) for the ever-so-humble 20-year-old out of Texas.

“He was the face of the franchise, but now I’m here trying to become the face [of the franchise].”

There may never be a “face” of the Brooklyn Nets given how they key in on team basketball, but Jarrett Allen is certainly heading in the right direction to not only becoming one of the many faces of the Nets, but an NBA star in the making for years to come.

And he won’t turn 21 until April 21 ... smack in the middle of the first round of the NBA playoffs.