25-under-25: Jarrett Allen at No. 17


Jarrett Allen has done everything you could ask from a young, athletic big man. But his place with the Cleveland Cavaliers still doesn’t feel secure.

Jarrett Allen joined the Brooklyn Nets in the years when the team was still reeling from giving up all their first-round picks to the Boston Celtics in a 2013 trade. He was one of the many young players the team acquired in the aftermath, hoping they could lay the groundwork for a better future.

Allen certainly outplayed expectations as a late first-round pick, and on a team that went 24-58, he was one of the few reasons for optimism about the team’s future. He played even better the next year as the team’s full-time starter, but in spite of how good he had been, his position the team became less secure that summer when the Nets signed DeAndre Jordan alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, a signing made less for basketball reasons than practical ones in light of Jordan’s friendship with the two superstars. Allen remained the starter, but it was clear that his growth was no longer a true priority.

In January 2021, with the Nets focused on winning a championship in the immediate future, Allen was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers as part of the James Harden deal. Receiving the most playing time of his career, he thrived in his 50 games as a Cavalier. He provided rim protection for a team that needed it and was rewarded this summer with a $100 million deal to keep him in Cleveland for the next five years.

Jarrett Allen still has to command his place on the Cleveland Cavaliers

However, not long after signing that deal, the Cavaliers made his spot in the frontcourt uncertain by drafting Evan Mobley and then trading for Lauri Markannen. Along with Kevin Love (if he is healthy enough to play more than a handful of games this year), the Cavaliers now have a logjam at the 4 and 5 positions since all four of these players will expect to start and the team could never play more than two of them simultaneously. It’s not quite the Sixers drafting Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, and Jahlil Okafor in back-to-back-to-back years, but there’s shades of it here.

Jarrett Allen cannot be considered a modern big. He does not shoot 3s and the vast majority of his shots come at the rim, often on lobs after setting a pick on the perimeter. Yet his athleticism and length keep him from ever appearing like a throwback, even if his afro does appear like a vestige of an earlier era. Allen is not out of place guarding opponents on the perimeter though he is most at home near the basket. There, he often appears seemingly out of nowhere to block and divert shots that appeared just moments before like an open one. Considering his abilities, it’s more clear why Cleveland acquired him than why they have done what they have since.

Allen has been given a mixed message from the Cavaliers this offseason, with them reaffirming their desire to keep him as a major part of their core for the foreseeable future while also making him less essential. It’s rare for a player who just signed a five-year extension to have their future appear so uncertain. The big question is whether he and Evan Mobley can play together or if their skillsets overlap too much. While both are well-suited for the modern game individually, that does not necessarily mean that the two of them together will be. Perhaps if Mobley is the reincarnation of Miami-era Chris Bosh, things will be fine. But even if that happens, wouldn’t it just make more sense to play him at the five?

Jarrett Allen appears to be the type of player that can make any team better. He provides solid interior defense while remaining spry enough to avoid embarrassing himself on the perimeter. Offensively, he sets good picks and gives the team a number of easy buckets nightly. The Cavaliers were able to get him for a pittance, giving up Dante Exum and two not especially enticing draft picks. It’s the type of acquisition that should be a boon for any rebuilding team. Yet Cleveland does not seem to realize what they have.

If the Cavaliers continue to prioritize his development, as they did last season, then the team is certain to have a solid and reliable starting center for years to come. However, if Cleveland continues acquiring players with little apparent regard for how the pieces fit together, then Allen will again be forced to succeed in spite of his situation instead of because of it.

Next. Meet the 2021 NBA 25-under-25. dark