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Brooklyn Nets Notebook: Caris Levert and Jarrett Allen Elevated in Orlando

LeVert and Allen took on greater responsibility and thrived

The NBA restart in Orlando offered both opportunity and a challenge for Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen.

For the last three seasons, LeVert has shared backcourt time with players like Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie and D’Angelo Russell. With those players and more in mix, the 22-year-old Allen was lower on the list of offensive options, even after he moved into the starting lineup as a 19-year-old rookie.

But as the Nets journeyed to the NBA Campus, there was no Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan, or Taurean Prince. Irving had been declared out for the season months earlier before play was even halted in March.

“Great test for (LeVert),” said head coach Jacque Vaughn. “I think you saw him become much more verbal on the floor, a better recognition of what needed to be done on the floor on both ends, an accountability level with himself and with his teammates. So great growth from him, an experience I hope he deems as worthy. We definitely appreciated his sacrifice.”

Stepping into that lead role, LeVert averaged 23.1 points and 6.4 assists in 10 games in Orlando. After the Nets dropped their opener against Orlando, they faced a key game against the Washington Wizards, with the opportunity to fortify playoff position against the team one spot behind them in the Eastern Conference standings at the time. LeVert put up 34 points and seven assists while playing 39 minutes in the win.

LeVert’s versatility was on display throughout. He got to the rim and the foul line, showed off a new dimension operating out of the post, and punished teams on short jumpers in the paint. Vaughn started out pairing LeVert with another ball-handling guard in the starting lineup, but slid him over the point guard slot beginning with the fifth game, against Sacramento. Brooklyn went on to win three straight games, locking up the seventh playoff seed in that stretch.

In his second game at the point, LeVert ignited a 45-point first quarter that sparked a win against the LA Clippers, and put up a career-high 13 assists. That was the start of a four-game stretch in which LeVert averaged 12.0 assists, including another new career-high of 15 in Game 1 against Toronto.

Right before that, LeVert scored 37 in a one-point loss to Portland that closed the seeding round schedule for Brooklyn, and he finished the season with 35 points against Toronto in Game 4.

“I think I came to have a lot more respect for guys that do it on a regular basis because everybody wants the role but it's a lot harder than you think,” said LeVert. “I feel like I got better as the games went on like I said. The scrimmage games were one thing, I got the hang of it, and the regular games I got the hang of it and the playoffs are a whole different thing. You saw box-and-one, triangle-and-two, double-teams, triple-teams and I feel like it was a long playoff series for sure and you kind of get frustrated and down on yourself, but at the end of the day you gotta look at it as every game is a new game. You have to attack it like that. But I feel like the experience that I gained down here will definitely pay dividends next year and further down in my career when I get that opportunity again.”

As for Allen, the young center absorbed a previously unseen workload and thrived. Allen was averaging 25.7 minutes per game when the season stopped in March, right around the 26.2 he averaged last season. His 205 total minutes were the most any Net played over the seeding round games, and he averaged 33.7 in 10 games in Orlando, including 38 against the Clippers — a 16-point, 16-rebound game — and 41 in Game 2 against Toronto, with 14 points and 15 rebounds.

“I came down with a mindset focused on basketball, focused on being able to improve my game and just take my game to another level,” said Allen. “Even take out offense, it’s just, know where I need to be on defense, rebounding, being more physical. Then, second came offense, trying to expand my game as a passer like you saw in some of the games, expand my game as a rim-roller, just trying to expand all facets of it.”

Like LeVert, Allen stepped up in the win over Washington that really set the course for the rest of Brooklyn’s seeding round schedule, with 22 points and 15 rebounds in 38 minutes. But there were also signs, that Allen was adding something to his game beyond the bigger workload. He arrived in Orlando averaging 1.3 assists per game this season, but opened with three against Orlando, two against Washington, and four against Boston. Then, in a win over Sacramento, he dished out a career-high eight. Through the end of the seeding round games, Allen had 25 total assists, third on the team behind LeVert and Chris Chiozza. He left Orlando averaging 3.4 assists in 10 games.

Allen elevated his foundational numbers as well. He grabbed double-digit rebounds in his final seven games, including 15 or more in the final three games against Toronto, becoming just the second player in Nets playoff history to have three consecutive games of 15 or more rebounds. Over his 10 games, Allen averaged 13.7 points and 14.0 rebounds.

“I say this all the time; JA is going to be one of the top three centers in the league for a long, long time,” said LeVert. “The only person that can stop that is him. He has all the tools, he's learning how to play each and every day. His basketball IQ is growing each and every day and he wants to be that good, so I think the sky is the limit for JA. Proud of the way he competed down here and we know he was going to have to be really good for us to have a chance to win any games and he really took that challenge and he did a great job.”

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