Only five players in the entire NBA are older than Brooklyn Nets rookie Jarrett Allen, a player who was projected to enter the season as one of the league’s biggest projects. He was a first-round pick, but his youth and inexperience had people believing he would take a while to adjust.
By the end of his first season, though, Allen found himself injected into the starting lineup. In other words, he came along a lot quicker than anybody expected.
“I defied some people’s expectations,” Allen told Basketball Insiders. “A lot of people thought I was going to be a G-League guy, and that they were going to have to develop me before I’d be ready to play at the NBA level, but I came in and played well enough to be a starter. I’m playing starter’s minutes now and putting up pretty good numbers. I think I’m doing pretty well.”
He’s grateful to have made such big strides in his first year, but even he stepped into this season believing it might have been a slog getting meaningful minutes.
“I definitely thought that I was going to have to through the process,” he said. “I thought I was going to have to spend time in the G-League, improve from there and then hopefully get into the lineup. So, I decided I was going to be a defensive-minded person really early on. I opened myself up to doing all of the dirty work, and I think that helped make me a bigger part of this team earlier than some people thought.”
Allen actually started the season hurt, which meant he couldn’t participate in Summer League and cut his teeth on less-than-stellar transitional talent. Instead, he put on his NBA jersey and bodied up a real professional player for the first time during training camp.
“The first person I had to guard was Timofey Mozgov,” Allen said, laughing at the memory. “I’m 19, just coming into the league, and that’s my first experience of having to guard someone. I thought to myself, ‘Man, it’s going to be like this the whole year?’ That really is what it’s been like going up against guys like Dwight Howard and Joel Embiid. I’ve spent all year playing against really strong guys, so I guess getting inducted by Mozgov was good for me.”
His whole season has been a nonstop introduction, matching up against star players frequently.
“In Mexico, we played the Oklahoma City Thunder, and I went up to block Carmelo Anthony’s shot. I grew up watching Carmelo forever, so getting to play against him and even blocking his shot, that was that moment when it hit me I was really in the NBA.”
Especially when Allen got into the starting lineup, his defensive assignments got much more difficult.
“The first start was against Kristaps Porzingis, and that was a tough matchup for me. I honestly was nervous that first time, getting my first start against one of the best basketball players in the world. I went in and took the challenge.”
Those challenge are only going to get more challenging, so strength training is going to be his main focus this summer, among other things.
“This offseason definitely is going to be when I add a lot of muscle. I want to add strength, shooting, and offensive game stuff. [Defensively], I think I’ve done pretty well, and I know I’ll get even better with time, but I need to work on offensive skills, dribbling, shooting, and post work.”
Allen self-assesses his first season in the league as a success, but it’s over now, and he can look forward to a sophomore season in which he knows the ropes from Day One.
“I’ve been the little brother of the team this year. Everybody has helped me out, and everybody has bossed me around a little. I had to carry around a pink backpack for a little bit, but after that I’ve just had to carry water for the guys and bring it onto the bus. It hasn’t been too bad, but every rookie looks forward to the day when they aren’t a rookie anymore.”