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Looking back at the best —and worst— of Jarrett Allen

We continue our occasional series, Friday Flashback, in which Ajayi Browne takes a look back at moments that drive Nets thinking on a player. Today, it’s two moments from Jarrett Allen.

New Orleans Pelicans v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Jarrett Allen emerged as one of the NBA’s best young bigs after being drafted in 2017. At only 19 years old, Allen was taken at No. 22 by the Brooklyn Nets, using the Wizards pick. In the process, he became the second youngest player to ever wear a Nets uniform, New Jersey or Brooklyn.

Now, after turning 22 during the pandemic, there’s a lot more pressure on Allen, both because the Nets really don’t have other bigs and because he wants to prove himself. He was removed from the starting lineup and replaced by DeAndre Jordan when Kenny Atkinson was dumped in favor of Jacque Vaughn.

The other day, talking about Brooklyn, Allen recalled that Draft. While the Nets thought of him as a lottery talent, others didn’t and he kept dropping, word being that he didn’t love the game enough, was too cerebral.

“It’s always been something for me to represent Brooklyn,” the Austin, Texas, native told NetsDaily. “I always go back to they’re the ones that took a chance on me. Going into the Draft, I thought I was going to be drafted earlier. Then, Brooklyn came in and scooped me up.”

Looking back, many teams didn’t want to take a chance on the 6’11” prospect. Wizards fans in particular were upset, believing he could have filled a big hole in the middle. And players like Frank Ntilikina, Terrance Ferguson, and TJ Leaf taken before Allen have not lived up to their pre-Draft hype (as of now). Allen may not have reached all-star level but he’s certainly a solid piece ... and a steal late in the first round.

To this day, it’s hard not to imagine that many teams have punched the air in regret. So, as part of Friday Flashback, let’s take a look at a couple of Jarrett Allen’s milestone performances in his three-year career. Maybe his best game came against the Houston Rockets on January 16, 2019...

The Nets big man was an absolute MONSTER in that game. He grabbed a career high 24 rebounds, added 20 points to make it a double-double, and put the cherry on top two assists. The Nets also took the win 145-142. The league slept on Allen’s big game for the most part and a lot of it had to do with Harden’s 58 points. Overlooked or not, this game only proved how high the ceiling really is for Jarrett Allen’s potential.

His teammates believe in him. After the last scrimmage game in which he did a nice job against Rody Gobert, finishing the game with 19 points and 10 boards, Caris Levert heaped praise on “JA” and what he could become.

“I loved the way he competed against Gobert,” LeVert said of Allen. “Gobert’s one of the top bigs, one of the top rim protectors in the league, and I think JA’s up there as well. I think he’s going to come into his own every single game, and I think games like tonight really show that. He’s just got to be consistent with it . . . I can’t wait for him to keep getting better and see what his ceiling is.”

Of course, the former Texas Longhorn still has some work to do. Although Allen is known for his trademark blocks, especially when going up against opposing team’s star (ask LeBron), he still has to get better on that side of the floor. When matched up against stronger bigs, Allen’s post defense can at times get exploited. In last year’s playoff series against the Sixers, Embiid proved just that.

The Nets were dealing with an injured Ed Davis so a young Jarrett Allen had to step up his game against a proven All Star, Joel Embiid. The increased minutes didn’t help at all either. No matter how hard Allen tried, Embiid found ways to score on Allen. Yes of course Jarrett still held his own at and didn’t back down, but at the end of the day, it just wasn’t enough.

Embiid’s rough play led to Jared Dudley to take a shot at him. Dudley is a big fan of Allen’s and thinks the Nets would be short-sighted if they dump him in favor of DeAndre Jordan.

“His value is not going to be the same as when he’s playing 25 to 28 and he’s getting blocks on Sports Center and people say, ‘Hey, we’ll take this young guy.’ Jarrett Allen still has another level he can get to right now. DeAndre Jordan and guys of that age are set at who they are,” said Dudley back in March.

If we fast forward to now in Orlando, Allen will have an increased role again. The Nets are going to need him to step up his game. Jordan and Nicolas Claxton are both out unfortunately. Luckily for the Nets, Allen is no stranger to carrying the load through injury.

In an interview with the media in the “bubble” last week, Allen laid out what he needs to prove.

“For me, I’ve been in this position before. In the playoffs, rookie year I was the main big playing and then last year when Ed got hurt I had the load, and then this year this happened. I just need to come out and prove that I’m able to play at this level again.”

Allen will have to find it within himself again to carry this load for Brooklyn. If the Nets have any hopes of going far this year, Allen has to show up. On Friday, afternoon, he started out on fire with 10 points in the first seven minutes of the first quarter. Then, as he did in the past, he wasn’t as aggressive as he should have been. Of course, with the Nets so short-handed, the Magic quickly countered the Nets pick-and-roll, keying on Allen and LeVert.

For the future, if Allen can bulk up, add a little consistent jump shot to his arsenal and overall just play more aggressively on defense, there is no doubt in fans or teammates’ mind that he will become top five center in the league one day. Ed Davis said as much last season when asked about mentoring Allen.

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

Spencer Dinwiddie, another fan, has noted that Allen needs to be more aggressive on a consistent basis. When he’s at his best, “Allen is “totally different,” said Dinwiddie. “When he comes with that aggressiveness, he shows [top 5] type of talent.”

But the next eight or more games will help him and the Nets. He will learn whether he can deliver and the Nets will learn whether they should extend him this fall. They can extend him with a big new contract, as they did LeVert and Taurean Prince last year or they can hold on to him for another season at nearly $4 million, see what he can do and postpone a big decision till free agency in 2021. Or, they can trade him.

Jarrett Allen is currently averaging 10.6 points along with 9.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks for the season. The Nets need Allen now more than ever.