Heading into his third year, expectations were high for Jarrett Allen. Through the first quarter of the season, the 22-year-old has continued his rise among the ranks of the NBA’s young centers, largely thanks to his superb defensive play.
Jarret Allen has taken his game to another level this season for the Brooklyn Nets.
Allen showed flashes of being an elite defensive center in his first two seasons. NBA coaches, front office executives and players often see the third season as the year where you find an understanding of a player’s ceiling.
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When the Nets brought in DeAndre Jordan, many wondered how the young center would respond to the competition. Jordan, a close friend of Brooklyn’s new superstar pairing, posed a threat to Allen’s starting position.
Allen embraced the challenge and the duo have developed a great relationship on and off the court. Jordan, a two-time NBA All-Defensive First Team selection, has mentored Allen while also playing outstanding two-way basketball off the bench.
This season did not start the way Allen had envisioned. The 22-year-old struggled early on, leading many to question whether he had the toughness to man the middle on a contending team.
Despite these early struggles, Allen found his groove and has been playing the best basketball of his young career as of late.
It’s no coincidence that Allen’s improved play coincided with a defensive resurgence for Brooklyn. The center is proving that he has the intelligence and physical attributes necessary to lead a defense.
Head Coach Kenny Atkinson lauded Allen’s defensive leadership and energy over the hot streak following a November 29th win over the Boston Celtics via Howie Kussoy of the New York Post:
“The guy’s all over the place. He’s on every board. He’s at the rim protecting. He’s our quarterback on defense.”
When most people think of Allen defensively his emphatic blocks and rim-protecting ability come to mind. Opponents shoot 9.2 percent worse within six feet of the basket when Allen is their primary defender. While rim-protecting is one of his biggest strengths, there is another part of his game that does not get the recognition it deserves — his perimeter defense.
Allen has blossomed into one of the top perimeter defenders in the NBA among centers this season.
Quick feet and an impressive 7’6″ wingspan give the center a rare ability to stick with guards step for step and contest on the perimeter. In today’s position-less NBA, that is an invaluable tool for a center.
This skill does several things for a team defensively. It allows Brooklyn to maintain a size advantage against teams who try to play small while avoiding mismatches.
It also compensates for high-volume offensive guards like Irving or Spencer Dinwiddie on the defensive end by allowing them to switch on screen and rolls.
Allen’s versatility serves Brooklyn well defending in transition as well. The Nets consistently rank towards the top of the league in pace, which leads to a lot of transition opportunities for opposing teams.
In transition situations, Allen can matchup as he sees fit to compensate for guards who are late getting back.
Allen’s defensive versatility could give Brooklyn a huge advantage towards the end of close games.
Kevin Durant will add another extremely long and talented defender alongside Allen when he returns.
Allen’s ability to switch and guard on the perimeter alongside this talented group of defenders could push Atkinson towards a switch everything defensive strategy.
The Toronto Raptors employed this strategy at various moments in the playoffs last season with Serge Ibaka and Pascal Siakam in the frontcourt. Allen and Durant possess extremely similar measurables and skillsets to Ibaka and Siakam.
A switch everything defensive strategy, particularly late in games, would go a long way towards improving Brooklyn’s deficiencies defending the pick and roll. The Nets rank dead last in the league in pick and roll defense, allowing opposing teams to score on 44.4 percent of possessions.
On top of this, it would allow the Nets to stick with shooters off the ball in select situations.
While it is not practical to switch all screens as a base defensive strategy, it is an ability that can get teams out of their rhythm by forcing players into isolation. In high pressure, playoff situations, teams with lengthy defenders have found success with this philosophy.
Allen’s defensive capabilities open a number of doors for Brooklyn on the defensive end.
The Nets are set up to be a contending team in the coming years, and in a league where versatility is valued more than ever before, Allen is a keeper.