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FILM STUDY: Will Jarrett Allen be a Brooklyn Net next season?

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Brooklyn Nets v Los Angeles Lakers

At the 5:03 mark in the fourth quarter of the Nets big win over the Lakers – a game that could very well be the last of Brooklyn’s 2019-2020 season – Jarrett Allen was replaced by DeAndre Jordan to close out perhaps the biggest win of the Nets’ season. At the time, this was seen as nothing more than a simple exchange by new head coach Jacque Vaughn, the insertion of the veteran starter in the place of the developing backup with gobs of potential.

But, as first pointed out by the Post’s Brian Lewis, that moment when Allen sauntered over to the bench in those crucial closeout minutes may have been the final time we see Allen in a Nets jersey. Once seen as a potential centerpiece to Sean Marks’ audacious rebuild, Allen’s ultimate destiny could be as a vehicle of exchange in a deal that lands one of the league’s stars, rather than as a foundation piece of Brooklyn’s champion puzzle.

Just this morning, ESPN’s Hoop Collective discussed the possibility of using Allen (and Spencer Dinwiddie) as a chip in an off-season pursuit of players like Jrue Holiday or Bradley Beal. Allen has also been mentioned in discussions of what it would take to get Aaron Gordon.

To be clear, it wasn’t always like this. From mid-November to mid-December – a month-long stretch in which Allen put up a 15.7 points, 11.9 rebounds, 69.6 percent shooting, and a +3.6 plus/minus (second behind Joe Harris) – it felt as if a breakout for the 21-year-old center was almost inevitable.

Until it wasn’t.

For the next month and some change, Allen’s averages dropped precipitously to 9.8 points, 8.4 rebounds, 63.5 percent shooting and a -2.1 plus/minus. Then came Kyrie Irving’s cryptic comments in which the superstar called the need for additional pieces “glaring” to get to “that next level” and – whether this was intentional or not – failed to mention Allen’s name in that infamous list of (presumptive) long-term Nets.

Fast forward another two months and the leader of Allen’s development, Kenny Atkinson, was fired for a multitude of reasons, one of which was reportedly his allocation of minutes at the center position. Following Atkinson’s shocking dismissal, Allen came off the bench in favor of DeAndre Jordan during Jacque Vaughn’s Nets debut vs. the Bulls. Coincidence, I think not!

Deeming year three of Allen’s NBA career a successful campaign would be disingenuous no matter how you spin it; whether his up-and-down performance was a product of his own efforts or a consequence of his external situation is tougher to figure out. Getting a clear read may be virtually impossible given the sheer number of confounding variables: the firings, the injuries, the never-ending shift in roles and oh yeah, a pandemic-shortened season.

But, let’s take a stab at answering this potentially unanswerable question by revisiting a time of glorious optimism and juxtaposing it to our solemn present day.

In one of my first pieces for NetsDaily, an article that outlined Allen’s growth just before his aforementioned month-long breakout, I referred to ‘The Fro’ as a “a star within his role.” His willingness to play within himself was reflected in multiple “catch all” advanced statistics: Allen was “fourth on the (Nets) in VORP, first in average plus-minus (+7!!), fourth in win-shares and second in PER” as well as the team-leader in net-rating.

Fast-forward to today and Allen’s status as a statistical darling remains mostly unchanged; he’s still second on the Nets in VORP, second in PER and first (!) in win-shares, though he’s lost some ground in net-rating (a barely-positive 0.5) and plus-minus (dropping to 6th among the 17 Nets players who qualified).

One of the many things that exemplified Jarrett Allen’s “subtle evolution” in November was his relentless commitment to sound positioning, continuous balls-to-the-wall defensive effort, and impenetrable control of the restricted area. Once again, this sterling testament to Allen’s value still rings true. Opposing players have shot just 58.9 percent in the restricted-area, a mark that still sits within the top-10 among centers who qualified

(DeAndre Jordan sits further down that list with a 63.2 percent field-goal percentage allowed in the restricted-area). He’s also gobbled up 278 contested rebounds, continuing that trend of being one of the eight-best players in the league at rebounding in heavily traffic. Together, his utter domination as a painted-area protector and defensive glass devourer has thrust Allen into the top-10 of ESPN’s defensive RPM leaderboard for his position. (Jordan, meanwhile, sits at spot number 29.)

On offense, he’s still a top-6 player in total offensive boards (195 this season) and remains a crucial part of Brooklyn’s pick-and-roll heavy offense, accounting for 1.34 points per possession when setting ball-screens for the Nets’ creators – a very solid 86th percentile rating (just below him is DeAndre Jordan and his 85th percentile efficiency as a roll-man). Allen’s screen assist numbers have fallen victim to a slight decrescendo from 5.3 per game (as of November 8) to 4.2 per contest in the present day, moving him well outside of the top-six in screen-setting efficiency. But still, holistically speaking, the numbers paint a pretty clear picture: Allen has only improved at the things he’s good at, doing the thankless work for his Nets team.

And that’s kind of the issue.

In the final paragraphs of my November write-up, I raised this very important question: “Does the kid project as a starter on a championship team?”

Right now, although he’s done his part by playing to his strengths, you could argue that he hasn’t developed any of his weaknesses. Most of his scoring is completely and utterly dependent upon his teammates – especially in the lob-dunk setting – and should a defense “drop” against Allen rolling down the lane, he’s mostly rendered useless.

Calling upon Allen to create his own offense is damn near half-court suicide. The Jarrett Allen three-point experiment has all but been abandoned and his around-the-basket touch is still a bumpy freakin’ ride. Per NBA stats, Allen’s shot just 40.9 percent on hook shots. The makes are mighty pretty to behold, but his misses are just as hideous.

If Allen’s lob-game is eradicated, the Nets are effectively playing 4-on-5 on offense. That’s a bit of a problem.

Allen and his frontcourt mentor overlap in a variety of different skill sets – rebounding, shot-blocking and screening – but one of the categories that DeAndre Jordan creates some separation is as a passer. Recording practically the same number of turnovers this season (Jordan with 74; Allen with 72), DeAndre’s been much better at creating for his teammates with 20 more total assists than Allen’s 85. There are moments when Allen exhibits pristine comfort with passing on the short-roll or out of double teams…

However, in a manor that’s similar to his trick-or-treat post-up game, those moments of brightness as a passer are clouded by instances of indecision.

His defense, too, is marred by significant highs and ruthless lows. Since he first stepped on NBA hardwood, Allen has taken undeniable pleasure in snuffing out smaller players near the basket. This season, he’s even showcased signs of possibly growing into a rare “Unicorn equalizer” – someone who combines plenty of size and ample footspeed to stay with the league’s most fearsome ball-handling giants. Don’t believe me? Watch as Allen erases two of the association’s most dominant transition players, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Ben Simmons, by shadowing their every step from the 3-point line to the basket.

Allen’s ability to grab terrifying supersized ball-handlers by the horns (err, horn, I should say) is no meager accomplishment. Heck, Miami’s Bam Adebayo made national headlines for holding Giannis to a season-low 13 points on 6-of-18 shooting, a performance that highlights his candidacy as a potential Defensive Player of the Year.

There is one problem with Jarrett Allen’s defensive package: He still suffers significantly against physically imposing big-men. In certain instances, his lack of strength on the block makes him utterly unplayable when it matters most. Here, Los Angeles’ Dwight Howard is able to knock Allen out of the rebounding picture with just a slight shove, allowing for Howard’s teammate (LeBron James) to clean up the second-chance points.

Offensive foul? Yes, perhaps. But Allen must do a better job at orienting his body correctly toward the basket, bending his knees, and letting his center of gravity do the hard work when jostling with fellow bigs.

Let’s make one thing clear.

Jarrett Allen’s inconsistencies as a 21-year-old center aren’t anything out of the ordinary. It’ll be years until he fills out his frame, rendering his defensive imprint somewhat incomplete until that time comes. Offensively, he’s 1-to-2 skills away (passing and inside scoring come to mind) from becoming a true blue matchup problem. Even if his offensive development stagnates, he’s still carved out enough of a niche as an elite PnR roller and offensive glass pest to make ends meet (funny enough, in way that’s dauntingly similar to prime DeAndre Jordan).

But, as is the issue with many of the Nets’ younger players, Brooklyn doesn’t have the time to wait for Allen’s coming of age – as glorious as that moment of awakening could be. The clock is about to strike midnight when cashing in big for a Larry O’Brien trophy; moves must be made; a championship-worthy roster has to be assembled. Jarrett Allen lost his starting job to DeAndre Jordan, and honestly… just comparing the two according to a handful of key defensive metrics (from Synergy), perhaps that change was needed…

Will he earn that starting job back? Is he a championship player? Will he even be a Brooklyn Net in six months’ time? No one can say for sure, but one thing is clear…

The answer to those three questions are out of Jarrett Allen’s control. Welcome to the superstar era, Brooklyn.