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FILM STUDY: With increased role, more touches, Jarrett Allen playmaking shines bright

Jarrett Allen is getting more looks in the high post and is finding the open man in short roll situations, leading to an uptick in assist production in the “bubble.” 

Brooklyn Nets v LA Clippers Photo by Ryan Stetz/NBAE via Getty Images

This April, while we were all quarantining in our homes (at least, I hope that’s what we were all doing), dusting off that old video game console to revisit fond memories of our childhood (I know that’s what I was doing), maybe even picking up that book we meant to get to for some weeks, months, okay years (probably what I should have done)...Jarrett Allen celebrated a birthday, his twenty-second.

And as a 22-year-old NBA athlete, he’s still a number of years away from what’s considered the ‘prime’ of a basketball career. Sometimes, that’s easy to forget. Why? Because on June 30, 2019, Brooklyn went from an upstart team fresh off the heels of their first postseason appearance since the 2014-15 season to aspiring contenders overnight.

This means, for Jarrett Allen, he went from anchoring the defense of a 42-win team that shocked the NBA to anchoring the defense of a team with expectations—lofty ones at that. The maturation process is not going to be a gradual one for Allen on this Brooklyn squad. However, he seems ready to embrace the challenges — and setbacks —that come with expectation.

When he lost his starting job to DeAndre Jordan days before the season was put on hold, he didn’t whine, sulk, or loathe in self-pity; No, he used the “demotion” as motivation.

“It is a little motivation. I like my role as a starter. I know things don’t always go that way in the NBA, but I’m going to keep trying to play to show everybody in the NBA that I deserve to be a starter.”

Indeed! His play in the Orlando “bubble” has been both impressive and inspired—and more importantly, deserving of a starting role. Though it’s not uncommon to glance through a post game box score and see that “The Fro” racked up another double-double —29 as of Sunday— what is new, however, is an uptick in assist numbers.

So what has led to Allen showing off his playmaking chops? For one, and this shouldn’t necessarily surprise anyone with the drastic alterations set forth to the Nets’ roster due to

injuries and a pandemic, he’s getting more touches. In his first four games in the “bubble,” he averaged 56.4 touches per game. He’s also averaging 6.4 elbow touches per game (Per NBA Stats).

Pre-COVID, Allen was only receiving 38.3 touches per game—including 3.4 elbow touches. Now it doesn’t exactly take a mathematician to figure out an increased role can often lead to an increase in production, but it can also lead to an increase in unforced errors or turnovers. And that’s the thing, Allen has limited his mistakes...and I mean, reaallllyy limited his mistakes.

Because though he’s attempting 42.5 passes per game in Orlando (second on the team), a significant increase over his 27.8 passes attempted during the first 64 games of the season, he’s committed...wait until you hear this, four (!) turnovers—one of them being an errant pass of an inbound—in his last five games. That’s an assist:turnover ratio of 5.2:1 in the “bubble.” Pretty, pretty good.

Thus far, “x,” meaning more touches, plus “y,” meaning more passes, equals efficient offense for not just Jarrett Allen but the Brooklyn Nets.

The sample size is small, that’s the nagging additional context needed here, but Allen has had a certain comfort level with the ball in his hands. It’s not just impressed fans, but more importantly it’s been noticed by the coaching staff. Jacque Vaughn had the following to say about Allen’s eight-assist career night on Friday night...

“He was a force and extremely unselfish. He’s learning how to continue to play with his teammates, what’s available, and just the instincts are sinking in. It’s good to see.”

Allen himself chimed in—telling the media that he’s able to “see more of the things that are going on” with an increase in elbow touches.

“(Jacque Vaughn) put me in the position to have the ball more at the elbow, top of the key area, and I’m able to see more of the things that are going on.”

But enough stats and came here for visual proof; so allow me to oblige you. Let’s get into some film from these last four games to show exactly how Allen has flourished as a playmaker in the “bubble.”

Firstly, the chemistry between roster mainstays Jarrett Allen and Joe Harris has always been impressive—now it’s just more visible with both players being thrust into larger roles.

After all, Harris acted as the beneficiary of an Allen assist more than anyone else on the team this year, and he shot 53.4 percent in such instances. This give-and-go between Harris and Allen indicates why their two-man game has had success over the years...

Here, following a ball screen set for Caris LeVert on Brad Wanamaker by Allen, out towards the right wing, Allen sets another off-ball screen for Joe Harris—who’s mirrored by Gordon Hayward—in an attempt to free up space for Harris and the potential catch and shoot triple. Harris, once he fields the pass from LeVert, while feeling Hayward’s presence lingering perhaps a little-too-close for comfort, contorts his body mid-air and dumps the rock off to Allen, who then returns the favor by hitting the cutting Harris in stride as all Hayward can do is trail the play and admit defeat...

You know what? Let’s add in a third, yes a third (!) give-and-go for good measure. You can never be too careful. You can’t stop that bounce-pass, you can only hope to contain it.

Admittedly, not that it really matters, Allen’s assists usually are not very sexy. Those aforementioned clips are usually about as flashy as they get, but again, who really cares? He generates looks for teammates by sitting in the high post, scanning the field, making the correct read, and then usually setting a ball screen for that teammate he threw the ball to—creating separation for that ball handler to pull up off a screen or cut towards the rack. I mean, I guess efficiency can be sexy too...who doesn’t get excited by a good screen assist? No one outside of Utah, huh? Oh...

Exhibit A: Jarrett Allen catches the ball near the top of the key; ever-so-briefly surveys available options, kicks it over to Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, proceeds to set him a ball screen to provide TLC with a little separation against his defender, Troy Brown Jr, it works, and then TLC knocks down the mid-range jump shot in rhythm. I get it, this isn’t the most exciting play you’ll ever witness. Probably the most exciting part of this clip is the instrumental version of Nas’ “Ether” playing in the background—but hey, two points is two points. And there’s more where that came from, just sans Nas.

Exhibit B: Hey, look, another two-man showing by Harris and Allen! The same premise as before, Allen operates in the middle of the floor, takes the pass from CLV, kicks it back out to Harris, and immediately follows the play with an on-ball screen on Evan Fournier. From there,

Nikola Vucevic dropped to account for the rolling Allen and with D.J. Augustin not fully committing to the dig, Harris pulls from about 18-feet. Buckets, Joey Buckets...

With the Clippers game now accounted for, Allen is averaging 16.0 points, 11.0 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 0.8 blocks per game in the bubble. He answered the call and added a little versatility to his game with an extended role, something that has led to an increase in production.

At the ripe age of 22, Allen’s career is still in its infancy, and thus far it has already been quite impressive. It’s not an outlandish statement to claim that he can still get better; he already has, his subtle improvements are becoming more and more glaring with every passing game.

As Caris LeVert notes, “He’s going to be one of the best bigs in this league for a really long time.”

Of course, the Nets will have to decide whether that “really long time” will be in the black-and-white. He has not only increased his value as a Nets player. He’s also raising his trade value if the Nets decide to pursue that mythical “third star.” And even if they decide to keep him, they’ll have to consider how much they want to pay him. Last season, the Nets extended both LeVert and Taurean Prince just before Opening Night. Will they do that again with Allen? Stay tuned.