Jarrett Allen takes big strides into Brooklyn Nets starting lineup

Rookie hits career highs with 16 points and 12 rebounds in win over Sixers

The schedule keeps changing for Jarrett Allen, mostly because the 19-year-old Net keeps changing it.

The rookie moved into Brooklyn's starting lineup on Wednesday night in just his 42nd NBA game. That's a pretty fast move for the 2017 NBA Draft's 22nd overall pick who was playing high school ball in Austin, Texas this time two years ago.

"Funny, with the really good ones, you know right away," said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson after Thursday night's 116-108 win over the Philadelphia 76ers at Barclays Center. "Not that I'm some savant, but I knew. His demeanor. Obviously, the talent he has. But he's got a maturity about him that most 20-year-olds don't have. That's really the key to him. He's a really smart kid. You tell him one thing, or give him a coaching point, we were kind of upset with him for shooting too many of those floaters in the pick and roll, now he's just trying to get in there, he's getting closer to the rim and shooting jump hooks and trying to dunk everything and taking higher percentage shots.

"He's just an easy guy to coach. What's exciting, as he gets stronger, he's going to be really good. He was a poor free throw shooter coming into us and I think he's in the 76 or 77 percent and you see him working on it, like, 'I'm not going to be a bad free throw shooter.' It's great to see."

Allen's first start was just part of the Nets' center shuffle. Jahlil Okafor was limited by early foul trouble against the Sixers, but in Brooklyn's two previous games, he'd seen his most significant minutes in a month of action as a Net, scoring 21 points against Minnesota and grabbing 13 rebounds against the Knicks.

"He's been playing well," said Atkinson of Allen's insertion into the starting lineup after Wednesday's loss to the Knicks. "I thought this was the next step for him. I thought it was going to happen later, probably All-Star break, but I think he's clamoring for more minutes. I think Jahlil too. Had a good game in Minnesota, wanted to see him get some minutes. That was the thinking there."

The center spot had gotten crowded as Atkinson began working Okafor into the rotation in early January. There was Tyler Zeller in the starting spot, and even spot minutes for Quincy Acy and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in some of Brooklyn's extreme small ball lineups.

"It's been difficult playing three guys," conceded Atkinson. "I don't think anybody's happy with their minutes when they're just getting little chunks."

In matching his career high with 16 points against the Sixers - plus career highs in rebounds (12) and assists (3) - Allen recorded his sixth straight double-figure scoring game. He had opened January with 16 points against Orlando and matched that against Washington. Allen combined to shoot 11-for-12 against the Knicks and Sixers, and finished January shooting 72 percent from the field for the month in 16 games.

Clearly, the time had come to expand Allen's role, and he found out about the initial start roughly 45 minutes before tip-off against the Knicks.

The notion of the second-youngest player in Nets history as a long-term project due for some G League action this season disappeared back during training camp. Allen showed enough in October for Atkinson to make him part of the rotation early on, and the rookie contributed consistently enough to stay on the floor.

At first, defense and dunks were Allen's primary contributions. But he continues to show off an expanding offensive game. Over the last few nights he's shown off his growing repertoire, pivoting away from the rim for baby hooks, knocking down short jumpers and floaters in the lane, and in the third quarter against Philly, spinning to the rim for a gorgeous lefty hook over Joel Embiid.

"We work on it in small chunks," said Allen. "We work on the basics. We all work on the whole assets of moves. So I try to piece every type of move together to use it in the post."

Speaking of Embiid, Allen's first two starts offered some prime defensive challenges. On Wednesday it was the Knicks' Kristaps Porzingis, and on Thursday it was Embiid. That followed recent games in which the Nets faced Minnesota's Karl-Anthony Towns and Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo.

"I thought he did a great job, and then I look at the stat sheet and Embiid's got 29 and 14," said Atkinson. "That being said, I thought he fought. We did not want to send double teams. We did not want to front him. We did not want to leave their 3-point shooters. We were going to live with it. He had to work for every point. I thought Jarrett's length, and obviously he's got to get stronger, but he competed his tail off."

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