Brooklyn Nets Jarrett Allen Brings Hot Streak into Utah

SALT LAKE CITY — Over the last few games, the interior matchups for Jarrett Allen and the Brooklyn Nets have run the spectrum. In Atlanta, there was the relentless forward John Collins, chosen in the same neighborhood as Allen in the 2017 NBA Draft. Detroit offered the league's leading rebounder, Andre Drummond, while Oklahoma City had the powerful Steven Adams.

Saturday night in Utah, Allen gets a matchup with Rudy Gobert, the 2018 NBA Defensive Player of the Year who currently leads the league in field goal percentage and is fourth in rebounds and blocks while anchoring the league's No. 2 defense.

"He's long, he's athletic," said Allen. "High IQ, knows where to be, knows when to jump for shots and where to be, so it's going to be a good challenge."

Allen hits this game on a streak of excellent offense. Over his last five games he's averaging 12.4 points while shooting 82 percent.

"Yeah, 'cause all he does is dunk the ball. Which is all we want him to do," said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson. "We did want him to shoot corner threes, but that's kind of, I think he's more comfortable closer to the basket right now. I think a lot of that, him in the pick and roll, rolling to the rim, and his offensive rebounding's picked up. I think that's part of it. I see him more energetic. Even today in practice. It seems like he's had a new lease on energy lately."

Allen posted back-to-back doubles against Cleveland (15 points, 11 rebounds) and Atlanta (20 points, 12 rebounds), giving him a team-leading 22 for the season. Atkinson called him "a difference-maker" in the Atlanta game.

He's a pivotal presence in Brooklyn's offense, setting off-ball screens for shooters or high screens in pick-and-roll action with ball-handlers. Allen goes into Saturday night's game fifth in the league in screen assists with 4.7 per game. The Nets run the fewest post-ups in the league, so the pick-and-rolls are also where Allen is finding his scoring opportunities.

Lately, guards Spencer Dinwiddie and D'Angelo Russell have seemed a little more adventurous in lobbing the ball up for the 6-foot-11 Allen to go get it and finish the play.

"The option's there to throw the lob," said Allen. "I think we're starting to look more to that direction. For them, I know they've got to get used to throwing it again because we haven't had as much as last year. I think last year we had a lot more lobs. But even now for me even if I don't dunk it I'm coming down with it and dunking it after that, so I think I'm putting a little more trust in them to know I score off of it."

"They're coming two to the ball," said Atkinson of opposing defenses. "D'Angelo and Spencer, I think they've done a great job. When they blitz us, he's got to be a little bit, they're saying, 'Go ahead, you make the play.' That's been a strategy of teams lately, blitzing us."

It's just year two for Allen, who will turn 21 in April. He earned the starting center job midway through his rookie season and has started all 68 of the game's he's played this season out of Brooklyn's 70. He's increased his scoring from 8.2 points per game to 11.2 and his rebounding from 5.4 per game to 8.4.

Allen's field goal percentage was strong last year — 58.9 — so he's just a shade higher this season at 59.2. He's also attempting one more shot per game and getting to the line for two more free throws per game.

"I think he’s on target with the talent he has and his progress this year," said Atkinson. "He’s just 21 years old and to be a starting center in this league, when you really look at it, arguably he’s in the top 10 or 15 centers in the league in my personal opinion.

"Where can that go when you look at the age group he’s in and young centers in the league? Can Jarrett Allen at 25 be a top-five center, a top-three center, a top center? That’s the kind of talent I think he has. I’m really pleased with his progression. I thought his offensive rebounding the other night changed the game. His rim protection is elite, and that’s the hardest one to have that ability. We’re definitely thrilled with where he is right now."