OFFICIAL GAME PROGRAM OF THE BROOKLYN NETS
Jarrett Allen and Ed Davis have combined to give the Nets one of the NBA's most formidable presences at center
Jarrett Allen's introduction to Ed Davis did not go great, at least on the court.
The 20-year-old had blown away expectations in seizing the starting center role as a rookie last season, but going into this year, the Brooklyn Nets needed more depth at the position, and they needed more from Allen as he entered his second pro season.
Enter Davis, a ninth-year veteran whom the Nets signed as a free agent, envisioning him partly as a boost to their rebounding and defense, but also as a mentor for their young and rising starter. Allen began to get an education as soon as they took the court.
"When he first got here I had a lot of trouble defending him," said Allen. "Coach was getting mad at me for not rebounding, but it was stuff I'd never seen before."
"Quite honestly, Ed kicked his tail in training camp," said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson. "He was part of a second unit that was kicking our first unit's tail every day. I think that helped motivate Jarrett."
Fast forward a few months, and the pairing of Allen and Davis has worked out as well as Brooklyn could have hoped. They're one of the NBA's top center tandems in rebounding and field goal percentage, and the Nets have seen the effect in improved defensive numbers with the better boarding.
Allen and Davis each describe the other as "laid back," which sounds like a recipe for a comfortable pairing.
"He's so young," said Davis, who's still just 29 himself. "He's green in this world just because he hasn't experienced a lot of things. I can't say anything bad about him. He goes about his business. Comes in every day, he's professional. Stays in his lane. Can't say nothing wrong about Jarrett. A good dude."
"I wanted to improve my rebounding this year and he was the perfect guy to come in and help me with that."
Davis understood coming in that offering some guidance to Allen would be part of the job. He brought a reputation for rebounding excellence and respect among teammates that was well-established. In Allen, he found a young player anxious to soak up whatever Davis had to offer.
"I could see by what he was doing on the court that that's a place I wanted to be," said Allen. "I wanted to improve my rebounding this year and he was the perfect guy to come in and help me with that. And then he's also just a good vet in the locker room. He doesn't mind talking about his life, how he's come through the league. I've been listening to his stories. Even now, he's telling me tricks to rebound. Like last game, if I get the rebound and pass it out, I was wide open for a layup. Just stuff like that."
After starting 31 of his 72 games and averaging 8.2 points and 5.4 rebounds as a rookie, Allen's numbers are up across the board. He's spent the season trading places with Davis as the team's rebounding leader and been among the top 15 players in the league in field goal percentage and blocks all season long.
Last month he put together an epic 20-point, 24-rebound game in Brooklyn's win in Houston, shooting 10-for-19 while playing a career-high 43 minutes. That was part of a string of five consecutive games with double-digit rebounds for Allen.
"I think he's obviously gotten stronger, and he's rebounding the ball better," said Atkinson. "That was a big point of emphasis for us this offseason, getting him stronger and improving his rebounding. I think he's done both. His mobility at that size, his athleticism, the way he moves. It's why we were attracted to him in the draft and we saw the upside. But at 20 years old, you could argue he's often our most important player and his growth has been phenomenal. He's still got a long way to go, but really pleased with him and his impact on our improvement."
Between Allen's improvement and the addition of Davis, the Nets have moved up from 25th in the league in rebounding percentage to the top half of the rankings.
That's the centerpiece of what Davis has brought to the table throughout his career. Playing mostly in a reserve role, he's second among all NBA players in career rebounds off the bench since the 1983-84 season. He's reliably averaged double figures in rebounds per 36 minutes. The only two seasons he didn't hit that mark, he came in at 9.8 and 9.9.
"Sometimes you've got to put that pride away and do what's best for the team."
Like Allen, Davis came into the league as a first-round pick, the 13th overall selection by the Toronto Raptors in 2010 after two seasons at North Carolina. He made stops with the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Lakers before playing for three consecutive playoff teams with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Along the way, he grew into his current role, the reliable, respected veteran. He keeps a group text going on the subject with two of his Portland teammates, Evan Turner and Al-Farouq Aminu, two other 2010 lottery picks who have made multiple stops around the league.
"Sometimes you've got to put that pride away and do what's best for the team," said Davis. "You've got to figure out a way to stay on the court. I think throughout my career I've definitely grown mentally to understand it's not always what your agent's telling you or your friends at home, but what the coach wants to do and you've got to do whatever you have to do to stay on the floor, by any means. That's the key to sticking around in the league, and a lot of guys, they let their pride and ego get in the way."
With the Nets, Davis has been hitting the boards better than ever. He was rebounding at a career-high rate through January, and throughout the season has been among the top five in the league -- often at the top -- in rebounding percentages and per 36 rebounding rates.
"Talk about a guy that knows his role," said Atkinson. "Him knowing his role, I think that helps other guys. 'Hey man, I better play my role also.' He doesn't take bad shots. I don't think he has one jumper the whole year. He sets screens. He rebounds. Ultimate role player."
"It means a lot," said Davis. "For some people, they'll take it as disrespect. They think they should be a starter. They think they should be doing this, doing that. But like I always say, I'm in it for the team. I want to win. Obviously I want to play and I want to do well individually, but I'm always team first, no matter what, through the good and the bad."
It's an example worth following, and Allen is on board. Keeping up with Davis is part of the job.
"It keeps me driven because everybody likes being competitive," said Allen. "I'm a competitive person. I want to be the one with the most rebounds. With Ed, it's hard. So it just keeps me going, keeps me learning."