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Jarrett Allen is already worth it

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It’s not been easy for him, but Allen is already living up to the hype.

Cleveland Cavaliers v New York Knicks Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The Cleveland Cavaliers were clear when they acquired Jarrett Allen that he was the long-term answer at center. In Koby Altman’s own words, the trade was “too good” to pass up. The PR fallout hasn’t gone great with Andre Drummond now sitting out — Altman saying he “wouldn’t apologize” for having 48 minutes of “elite” center play is hilarious in retrospect — but it doesn’t change the trade’s value. Allen is a 22-year-old, mobile, rim running and shot blocking center who fits with the players the team has and fits along the same timeline. Getting him was the right move.

That said, the Cavs are still trying to figure out how to properly maximize Allen. The Nets teams Allen played on — not just this year with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, but dating back to his rookie year 2017-18 — all fit him perfectly. In his first three years, per Cleaning The Glass, each Brooklyn team he played for was top-five in the league in three-point frequency. Only one of those teams (the 2018-19 team) was above average in accuracy, but they still shot them well enough to leave room for Allen to roll cleanly into the middle of the floor against one, maybe two, defenders. Those Nets teams, not the star-heavy one that exists now, are more in line with what the Cavs can reasonably expect to build.

With Cleveland, Allen is still playing really well. Per Cleaning The Glass, he’s shooting 73% at the rim and has an effective field goal percentage of 63.2%, all well within his normal range. (Of note, these are also much better than Drummond’s numbers.) That said, Cleveland isn’t making it easy on him. Case in point:

What teams are doing is crowding the paint, knowing the Cavs don’t take that many three-pointers and instead are looking inside. (They are 30th in three-point frequency, per Cleaning The Glass, and 9.2% below league average.) It doesn’t help that the Cavs are playing players who aren’t really shooters, namely Lamar Stevens and Isaac Okoro. Until that changes — Kevin Love’s return really can’t come soon enough! — Cleveland will see versions of this night after night.

This is affecting Allen even if he’s still producing. Compared to his start with the season with Brooklyn, Allen is taking 23% fewer shots at the rim in Cleveland, per Cleaning The Glass. That’s a dip from the upper 2-3% of centers to the top 30%. And, as a result, he’s taking a career-high 25% of his shots in the short mid-range. Right now, he’s making those shots at a 50% clip, a career-best number. To his credit, Allen has a nice touch on his floaster and a jumper out to 16ish feet. If the Cavs, as they’ve said they’d like to, make him more of a playmaker with hand-offs and passes to cutters form the middle of the floor, scoring in that range will be key to open room up for cutters near the rim.

And, to be clear, Allen is producing right now with the Cavs. For anyone he’s on the floor with, he’s a real lob threat. He also doesn’t even really stop moving once he gets the ball. Even if he’s going to take a quick hook shot instead of dunking, he gets right into his shot. That’s a needed advantage for a team as bad as the Cavs.

Most notably, Allen is already developing chemistry with Darius Garland. Right now, the best offense Cleveland can run is a spread pick-and-roll with Garland and Allen. Even if the paint is cramped, Garland is crafty enough to get Allen the ball in a decent spot even if he can’t get him a clean lob at the rim. As the Cavs grow and expand the playbook — something that should begin to happen as soon as Love gets back — this needs to be a staple of what they do.

Defensively, Allen is what he was in Brooklyn too: He blocks a good amount of shots, is always in the right spot and barely fouls. If a team is going to play drop coverage a lot like the Cavs do, a center like Allen is essential. Cleveland’s defense has dropped from near the top of the league to 23rd and below average, but that’s not really on Allen. He doing what he does while Larry Nance Jr. is out and everyone else is a mix of outmatched and worn down by the slew of games. If Okoro develops as the hopes, the team can get healthy and things even out just a bit against a easier schedule than they’ve faced of late, there’s still a framework in place for at least a defensive competitive unit. Units that are built around Okoro, Nance and Allen should be, at minimum, annoying for other teams to play.

All things considered, getting Allen was the right move at the time. It still clearly is. He’s worth any of the trouble that’s happened since.