By Tom Dowd
Jarrett Allen was grinning like a teenager in the locker room after the Brooklyn Nets’ 126-121 win over the Orlando Magic in their home opener on Friday night, and why not?
At 19 years and 182 days old as of Friday night, Allen is still a teenager, the second-youngest player to suit up for the Nets in franchise history, after Derrick Favors in 2010. In 14 minutes of action in his NBA debut, he showed off all the tools that inspired the Nets to make him the 22nd overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft.
“When you get called off the bench, your world just gets flipped upside down,” said Allen, who entered the game with 5:50 to go in the second quarter. “Once you get back into the game, the flow of it, you’re fine.”
Allen had not played in Brooklyn’s season opener on Wednesday, but Atkinson made him part of Friday’s game plan seeking a stronger defensive effort than the Nets showed in their loss to Indiana. The 6-foot-11 Allen offered that possibility, particularly after Orlando center Nikola Vucevic caught fire early.
“I don’t want to blow this up, but I did feel confident putting him in there,” said Atkinson. “The beginning he didn’t look great. But slowly as he got into the game he got better and better. What’s impressive about him is he can go out to the perimeter and guard. He got (D.J.) Augustin in a switch out there, went out with his hand and Augustin tries to drive and he just slides in front of him. Obviously rim protection is a big thing. But as a coach you really want to see it in an NBA game. You think it’s there. So it was a nice confirmation. Now he’s got to do it again, over and over. That was a heck of a challenge against Vucevic. Vucevic got him in the post a couple times.”
Allen’s quick acclimation showed up in the final minutes of the first half. Running a pick and roll with D’Angelo Russell, Allen cut to the rim to dunk home the first points of his NBA career.
“If I can get a good pick and D’Lo’s handling the ball, a lot can happen off of that,” said Allen.
Next time down the floor, he screened for Allen Crabbe at the top of the key. As Crabbe received a pass and drove into the lane, Allen curled down the edge of the paint for another dunk, then followed up with a block on the other end.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Allen came flying across the baseline to slam home a Spencer Dinwiddie feed. He finished the game with nine points, with all three of field goal attempts converted dunks.
As the Nets play their third game of the season against the Atlanta Hawks Sunday at Barclays Center, it seems apparent that Allen has quickly claimed a role for himself.
“I think there are a lot of young players like him the league that are young, talented, athletic as heck,” said Atkinson. “The second part of that is, do you have the maturity and the demeanor to carry that over and actually be a contributor. I think he has that.”
At the moment, there would seem to be two Nets most directly impacted by the loss of Jeremy Lin to a knee injury. One would be Russell, who was essentially sharing the point guard role with Lin in the starting lineup as the season began. The other would be Dinwiddie.
Even with Lin and Russell available against the Pacers, Dinwiddie played 17 minutes on opening night. Beginning against Orlando, he has slid into a more definitive backup point guard role, playing 24 minutes and making a major impact.
Dinwiddie had 16 points, five assists and two steals while posting the strongest plus/minus number on the roster with the Nets plus-15 in his time on the court.
He entered the game under the four-minute mark of the first quarter, after Orlando had jumped out to 23-15 lead. As the Nets were putting together a 14-2 run, Dinwiddie knocked down a top-of-the-key 3-pointer, then fed Joe Harris for another triple from the right side that put Brooklyn up 29-25.
Dinwiddie and the second unit carried the action deep into the second quarter. The 6-foot-6 guard drove for a reverse layup, then pulled up in the lane for a bucket and a foul, converting the three-point play for a 41-34 Nets lead.
He also saw major minutes in the fourth quarter, sccoring seven points in the first five minutes. Dinwiddie’s 3-pointer put the Nets up 102-100, and they never trailed again.
“You feel confident with him out there,” said Atknson. “I think last time we did keep him out there a little longer than what was planned. He’s playing very well.”
Trevor Booker has gotten off to a quick start. The rugged forward has two double-doubles in two games, averaging 18.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. Booker had a major impact in his 21 minutes against Orlando, an integral part of the bench unit that outscored Orlando’s reserves 64-34.
Russell is averaging 23.5 points over his first two games with the Nets, with a 30-point outing against Indiana followed by 17 points and some big fourth-quarter scores against Indiana.
The Nets are averaging 128.5 points per game, with seven players scoring in double figures at Indiana and six against Orlando.
AGAINST THE HAWKS
After making the playoffs in each of the last 10 seasons, the Hawks had a major roster turnover following the 2016-17 season. They’ve split their first two games, with a 117-111 win over Dallas and a 109-91 loss to Charlotte on Friday.
With the Hawks having lost three of their top four scorers from last season, point guard Dennis Schröder is the top offensive option. Schröder is averaging 26.5 points per game after averaging 17.9 as Atlanta’s No. 2 scorer last season.