Making the NBA All-Star case for Cavs big man Jarrett Allen

Making the NBA All-Star case for Cavs big man Jarrett Allen

Kenny Atkinson always saw more in Jarrett Allen.

When Allen, drafted No. 22 overall by the Brooklyn Nets in 2017, hit a rookie wall the following March, the then-head coach of the Nets (and now Golden State Warriors assistant) pivoted to saying the near 7-footer’s struggles will make him a better player. When the towering Texan would show just a hint of touch in games and practices, Atkinson would tell us that he’d hope Allen would expand his range to hit corner threes. And while the Cleveland Cavaliers' center still hasn’t quite adopted that, he hasn’t needed to. He has a shot at being one of the league’s only first-time All-Stars in 2021.

(Maybe now you’re seeing why people thought it was funky that Allen was sent to the bench for DeAndre Jordan immediately after Atkinson and the Nets parted ways.) 

But enough bringing up old sh**, for now. 

Prior to suffering a torn UCL last week, Bam Adebayo was likely going to add the second All-Star bid of his career while manning the frontline of the Miami Heat, a team many deem as an NBA contender on some level. With Adebayo out for an undetermined amount of time — it’ll be several weeks, according to 5 Reasons Sports — he's likely knocked out of All-Star contention. In turn, that opens the door for other frontcourt players in the Eastern Conference, and in the spirit of showing centers the respect they deserve, why not Allen?

Since Collin Sexton — who's out with a torn meniscus for the rest of the season — last played, the Cavaliers have gone 7-8, but still sit at 14-12 and would be a play-in team if the season ended today.

This season, Darius Garland’s been All-Star worthy, and is now at 19.5 points and 7.2 assists per game on 47/39/89 shooting splits. Since Sexton went down, he’s up to 21.9 points, and 7.0 assists on 47/37/90 shooting splits. But he’s also a guard in the same conference as Trae Young, Zach LaVine, Bradley Beal, Jaylen Brown, LaMelo Ball, Fred VanVleet, James Harden and — if counted as a guard instead of a forward, albeit unlikely — Jimmy Butler. (Shouts to Tyler Herro and Malcolm Brogdon as longshot possibilities, perhaps?)

Evan Mobley is the Rookie of the Year frontrunner, but at 14.0 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists per game, and 2.0 blocks per game on 48/33/79 shooting, he’s a step or two away from the All-Star game. But Allen is not only cashing in on Atkinson’s prior beliefs in him as a franchise big man; he just flat out has been one of the best centers in the league this season. (It also helps that, regarding All-Star voting, the frontcourt competition isn’t as steep. We’ll get to that momentarily, and, in part, it's why this case is being presented.)

Allen is averaging 17.1 points, 11.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game — the first two figures stand as career-high counting stats, as does his 70.4% shooting from the field. The Fro’s 18.4 points per 36 minutes are easily the best of his career, and he currently leads the Cavs (by far) in Offensive Rating (129) and Defensive Rating (102) among qualified players. His 4.1 Box Plus-Minus, 1.2 VORP and .240 win shares per 48 minutes also lead the Cavaliers, the latter two by a safe distance. Furthermore, he’s only doing this with an 18.4% usage rate, which is in the middle of the pack on the team. For reference, other bigs on the squad like Kevin Love (23.7%), Lauri Markkanen (19.5%), and Evan Mobley (19.0%) have a higher usage. 

And lastly, his True Shooting percentage is at a ridiculously-high 71.7%. His commitment to efficient shooting this season has been as persistent as the will to keep his afro perfectly round. (Remember, this is a man who has taken kids to get haircuts while never even thinking about giving braids a chance.) 

By some metrics people care about — and y’all know a lot of them are not created equal — Allen is excelling beyond what many may have anticipated so far this season from a team standpoint. Here’s how some of these numbers stack up around the NBA per Basketball-Reference:

  • 70.4% field goal percentage — 3rd
  • 71.7% True Shooting percentage (qualified players) — 3rd 
  • 11.3 rebounds per game — Tied for 7th
  • 18.4% rebound percentage — Tied for 12th
  • .240 win shares per 48 minutes — 7th overall /4th among centers
  • 1.2 VORP — tied for 12th overall /6th among centers
  • 23.8 PER — 12th overall /6th among centers  
  • 4.1 BPM — tied for 12th overall /7th among centers
  • 102.0 DRTG — tied for 3rd among centers
  • 18.4% usage rate — Tied for 121st

(He’s also second in dunks with 77 — so put him in the contest!)

When you comb through the numbers, Allen is popping up around All-Star-caliber centers such as Rudy Gobert, Nikola Jokić, and Anthony Davis, among others, and those three are out west. When you watch Allen, he’s constantly adjusting, opposing shots at the rim and seemingly always in the right spots. He is finding useful ways to play to his strengths, coloring within the lines as well as anyone on a fun Cavs roster.

Regarding his competition in the Eastern Conference frontcourt, it will be forward-heavy. Names like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler (again, assuming he’s a forward, which is likely) and DeMar DeRozan are shoo-ins, health prevailing. Though he hasn’t been awesome, Jayson Tatum will likely 24-foot fadeaway himself into All-Star Weekend as well, *just* beating out the shot clock every single time.

The bubble Allen resides in includes guys like Miles Bridges, Julius Randle, Domantas Sabonis, John Collins and Jerami Grant. Along with numbers, this will also clearly be influenced by injuries, unfortunately. (Additionally, it serves as the case for 15-man All-Star teams, but we can discuss that closer to February.)

Allen’s come a long way from fighting for minutes amongst a frontcourt including Timofey Mozgov, Tyler Zeller and current-free-agent Jahlil Okafor, that’s for sure. (Good call by Atkinson, by the way... let’s hope he doesn’t settle for the Sacramento Kings.)

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