In some ways, Jarrett Allen and DeAndre Jordan couldn’t be more different.
Jordan is the three-time All-NBA center, a 31-year-old entering his 12th NBA season with a new team in Brooklyn. If the resume wasn’t enough to announce his presence, well, he’ll let you know he’s there. And he’s done that through the Nets’ first few practices of the season.
“That’s just my personality,” said Jordan. “I’m very outgoing, I’m outspoken, I’m optimistic. I talk a lot. It’s good for me I think and for everybody else. Just making it a laid-back but competitive and serious environment is good for us.”
“I love his spirit, it’s wonderful, good sense of humor,” said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson earlier this week after a training camp session. “I said yesterday he was very, very impressive in practice, the defensive grasping our concepts. And he’s got an opinion, too. ‘With the Clippers, we did this.’ We talked about something today, too. Hmm, food for thought. I think you have to be evolving in this game. It’s changing so fast you have to be aware of…I always say these guys are out there on the battlefield. You’ve got to get their feedback.”
Allen is the Nets’ rising third-year center, 21 years old as of April with a knack for big statements on the court denying NBA stars at the rim. Off the court, he’s more circumspect. It’s tough to go unnoticed at 6-foot-11 with a classic throwback ‘fro, but Allen is working at pulling it off. In that way, not much has changed since the Nets brought him to the NBA as a 19-year-old first round draft pick after a single season at Texas.
“Same personality,” said Atkinson. “I don’t know if he’s going to turn into, just in terms of personality, which I love his personality. I think having diverse personalities is great. DeAndre’s like the opposite, he’s an extrovert, talks a lot. It’s great. It’s contrasting styles.”
But what the Nets ask of them on the court this season will be very similar — screen effectively and roll to the hoop on offense, finish opportunities at a high percentage, protect the rim and rebound.
With Allen starting all 80 games he played last season, he got great support from Ed Davis, one of the NBA’s most respected and reliable backup centers. But in Jordan they’ve brought in a player who has been among the NBA’s elite, an Olympic gold medalist who has started every game he’s played since the beginning of the 2001-12 season.
With those two options at hand, one of the tasks for Atkinson over the three weeks of preseason is sorting out how to spread the minutes at the position. Who will start? Maybe more important, who fill finish? How will circumstances — matchups, game situations, etc. — affect those decisions?
For now, both players have an opportunity to make their case in the most traditional way possible, matching up in practice. It’s a contest, but for the less experienced Allen, also a classroom.
“Every single day we’re going head-to-head,” said Allen. “I think it’s a great experience for me and for him. We’re bringing the best out of each other, we’re working hard and, honestly, it couldn’t be a better challenge for me.”
“It’s a competition every day,” said Jordan. “I don’t think that it’s a negative thing that we’re competing. It’s a part of the game, whether teammates or opponents. Either one of us out there on the floor I think is going to be positive for our team and excelling as a unit.”
That daily face off is something Atkinson likes to see.
“It’s great. They went at it today a little bit,” said Atkinson on Sunday. “I saw a little jostling. A couple elbows. It’s good for Jarrett. DJ, he’s got a physicality about him. It’s going to make Jarrett get better and Jarrett’s going to make DeAndre get better. They’ve both been really good. So where does it come out? The Nets will be stronger.”
Jordan brings a career rebounding average of 10.1 per game, having led the league in the category twice and grabbing at least 13.0 boards per game in each of the last six seasons. He’s the NBA’s leader in career field goal percentage (69.6), having led the league in that category for five straight seasons through 2016-17.
Jordan outweighs Allen by 20 pounds, which could help shore up a weak spot from last season; Allen’s ability to deal with more physical centers. But Allen has been gradually bulking up since he played his rookie season listed at 234 and enters the new season at 243.
With the Lob City Clippers, Jordan made himself a highlight-reel staple for his dunks. The Nets have made Allen one of the most active roll men in the league, ranking ninth in possessions with 3.7 per game, accounting for 36.8 of his possessions, a league-high frequency. Allen was ninth in the NBA in field goal percentage at 59.0.
His per game averages went up to 26.2 minutes, 10.9 points and 8.4 rebounds per game.
And if he’s still not particularly outspoken, Allen continues to grow more comfortable.
“I’m more confident in myself,” said Allen. “I know my role on this team. I know where I can get better. There’s a lot for me that has changed, more than I thought would change from my rookie year. I think I’ve matured in a lot of aspect.”
Continued growth from Allen paired with the addition of Jordan has Atkinson bullish about the Nets capabilities at center, regardless of how the minutes or assignments shake out.
“I look at it as our biggest strength,” said Atkinson after the first day of training camp. “We have real depth there and we have real choices there. I hope that makes sense. Sure, it’s competitive. Those are two competitive guys. The problem is they both played really, really well today. It’s two really good players. It will evolve. It always plays itself out. Yeah, I think those guys both know that they’re competing for something.”