It seemed like a tale of two seasons for Cleveland Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen.
Allen shone brightly during the regular season on a hopeful Cavaliers squad ready to make their mark on the Eastern Conference and beyond for the first time in nearly half a decade.
Unfortunately for him, the lights of the playoffs shone brighter.
Far brighter than even the 25-year-old Cavs center could have expected.
Cleveland fell in its five-game series against the New York Knicks behind the rebounding prowess of New York’s veteran options. The Knicks finished with 45.4 rebounds per game, while the Cavs ended with 37.2.
The interior anchor’s season ended with averages of 14.3 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game in 68 games played and 68 starts during the regular season. His production slowed down during the team’s playoff series against the Knicks, where he ended with averages of 9.4 points, 7.4 rebounds and one block as he suited up for an average of 38.1 minutes per outing.
Did Jarrett Allen live up to the expectations put upon him before the start of the season? And where can the former Brooklyn Nets center go from here?
Jarrett Allen played well on offense for the Cavaliers during the regular season.
The 6-foot-11-inch center finished the year with an efficient 65.3% on 2-point attempts and 3.3 offensive rebounds per game. He logged four straight games of 20 points or more in early February, finishing with double-doubles in three of the four contests while he grabbed nine offensive rebounds in a win over the Detroit Pistons.
Jarrett Allen’s season was highlighted by a 24-point performance against the Houston Rockets, where he made eight of his 11 shot attempts and grabbed six offensive rebounds as the Cavs took a 108-91 win over Houston at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse. He worked in the pick-and-roll with forward Evan Mobley and multiple Cleveland guards to earn easy buckets at the hoop while pushing past Houston’s interior defenders for put-back baskets.
The Cavaliers clinched their spot in the playoffs following the win over the Rockets, an accomplishment Allen couldn’t help but express his excitement about.
“It feels good,” Jarrett Allen said, via Cleveland.com Cavs reporter Chris Fedor. “All of our hard work over these past couple years finally paying off.”
Things changed by the time the playoffs rolled around.
The Cavaliers could not compete with the Knicks in the battle on the boards as the lights shone brighter in the postseason. Cleveland brought down 9.2 offensive rebounds per game in its series, putting it in 11th place among teams that made the postseason. Allen would still grab three offensive rebounds per game during the playoffs, including six during a Game 2 win at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.
“We all know the elephant in the room – the tyrannosaurus rex in the room – is the damn offensive rebounds,” Allen said, via The Athletic Staff Writer Kelsey Russo. “It’s just something that we felt like we could have done better.
“We could have gave a little more effort in.”
Could the Cavs’ starting center anchor the interior on both sides of the floor?
Jarrett Allen proved to be a reliable defensive anchor for the Cavaliers during the regular season, working with Mobley to hold down the interior while the team’s guards remained active on the perimeter.
It was enough to earn a bold statement from Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff towards the beginning of the season.
“He’s a Defensive Player of the Year candidate every single year,” Bickerstaff said after a 117-107 win over the Washington Wizards. “I think it’s time that we acknowledge that.”
Allen finished the regular season with a defensive rating of, or how many points a player allows per 100 possessions, 108.8. His rating put him on par with New Orleans Pelicans center Jaxson Hayes, Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton and a Cavs teammate in guard Darius Garland, according to NBA.com. He allowed 30.9 points in the paint per contest, 0.1 more than Atlanta Hawks center Clint Capela and 0.2 less than Cavs forward Evan Mobley.
Jarrett Allen brought down 4.7 contested rebounds per game, or rebounds where an opponent is within 3.5 feet of the rebounder. His opponents hit 54.1% of their shots when Allen was defending the rim, 0.2% less than Washington Wizards center Daniel Gafford and 1.2% more than Minnesota Timberwolves forward Jaden McDaniels.
But, just like on offense, Allen left much to be desired on defense during the playoffs. He grabbed 4.4 defensive rebounds per game while blocking one shot per contest before the Knicks moved on to face the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“Quite a bit,” Allen said on how much blame he shoulders for the Knicks rebounding success, via ESPN Cavs reporter Danny Cunningham. “That’s my job to get rebounds. That’s my job to box people out.”
Every player will have something to work on in the postseason.
Like Mobley, Jarrett Allen will have to build up his strength if he takes the next step as the team’s defensive anchor for the future. He must continue embracing the skills of a modern big and his role as a pick-and-roll center for the Cavaliers, as the former Nets draft pick highlighted in late November.
“Every night it’s something different,” Allen said in late November, via Bally Sports Cleveland. “Tonight, (Jusuf) Nurkic is a bruiser. Me, I’m a pick-and-roll type of guy, runs to the basket. Evan (Mobley) is a jack of all trades. Joel Embiid, he does everything. At this point, it’s every single night a big has some special thing that he does, so I don’t really think it’s prototypical anymore.”
Along with Mobley’s continued improvement, one can only hope that Cleveland’s frontcourt duo will help guide the team to continued runs in the postseason and elevate their backcourt stars for the foreseeable future.