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2017 Phoenix Suns Draft Profile: Jarrett Allen has the tools to be great defensive center

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Raw game overall but time at Texas, physical profile suggest bright future

NCAA Basketball: Texas at Kansas Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 NBA Draft is bursting at the seams with intriguing guards, possessing potentially five point guards alone capable of being among the first 10 picks. That has pushed the available centers in this class to the periphery of the discussion, but while there is no sure-fire prospect like Anthony Davis or Karl-Anthony Towns among this group of bigs, there are several who should be getting more top-10 consideration than they currently are. Jarrett Allen would be at the top of that list.

Arguably the most athletic big man in this year’s draft, the key word related to Allen is potential. He showed flashes of what could be in a couple years with the Texas Longhorns last season — especially in the season’s second half — and if he can continue making those same strides at the next level, comparisons to Hassan Whiteside (Heat) or a young Tyson Chandler (Suns) are hardly far-fetched for this young man.

Offense

To start, here is a visual aid for what to expect from Allen’s offensive game:

Now, if you’ve taken enough time to stop shaking your head or scrunching your face up, we can continue.

Allen scored 13.4 points per game over 33 games for Texas last season and shot 56.6 percent from the field in doing so, leading the Big 12 in field goal percentage. Those numbers include 68 percent shooting at the rim last season according to DraftExpress. Much of that success can be attributed to Allen’s athleticism, which is top-rate. He posted a standing vertical jump of 31.5 inches and a max vertical of 35.5 inches at the Combine — numbers that will make him a formidable lob target in the NBA when coupled with his height (6’10.25 in shoes). The ability to finish at and above the rim has proven enough for many centers over the years, but there is more to Allen’s offensive game than just dunking.

He possesses a decent set of post moves and shows the makings of a fluid and consistent hook shot with excellent extension that can be executed with either hand, although he is not about to step into the NBA and torch teams a la Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. His jump shot, meanwhile, is a work in progress. It is mechanical and has a meandering gather, but even though he failed to connect on a single 3-pointer last season (on seven attempts), it would be inaccurate to call it broken. He gets good arc and shows impressive touch from 15 feet in and especially so on touch shots from six to 12 feet, which is unusual for someone with such a raw offensive skill set. He also has somewhat unorthodox footwork attacking the basket but combines it with good mobility and body control to make it work for him. Beyond that, Allen has solid (and big) hands and great end-to-end speed for his size, as his 3.21-second ¾ court sprint time at the Combine was fastest of all centers measured.

All of that sounds good, but it should not serve to convince anyone that he is further along in his development offensively than he really is. He is not ready to be a featured part of an NBA team’s offense and will need to add considerable strength (primarily to his base) before that even enters into the realm of possibility. For instance, Allen struggled in the post against older, stronger players, as they routinely rooted him out of the paint. This led to a finesse-based post game that more often than not saw him moving parallel to the basket rather than towards it. His pick-and-roll game is also a question mark. While it wasn’t a staple of Texas’ offense last year, he didn’t set the greatest screens and would let the opponent disrupt his next move via the contact alone. Even his exceptional dunking ability showed better in space than against contact. He would hesitate instead of attacking the rim with abandon in these situations, wary of the physical clash awaiting him at the basket.

Allen also had a tendency to panic in the post against double teams, especially early in the season as he adjusted to the improved level of competition. That made him turnover prone; however, he toned down that issue as his confidence grew. And despite a concern over his passing last season (1.4 assists per 100 possessions), he is not a black hole on offense. Allen will never be a team’s point-center, but he moves the ball to open teammates better than is often portrayed.

One final area of concern would be Allen’s free throw shooting, which was 56.4 percent last year. Considering his touch elsewhere, this number likely has room for improvement but will depend largely on his ability to become more confident and consistent at the line.

There is a significant amount of raw material here, and with his biggest deficiencies being areas that will improve over time like strength and experience, there is reason to be bullish on what he could evolve into in a few years. Even if he were to max out as a 10-15ppg player, that is more than enough since no team should be drafting Allen with an eye on him being a primary scoring option.

Defense

Allen’s defense is as raw as his offense, but his physical tools cover those deficiencies better on this end of the court. Specifically, those tools are his 7’5.25 wingspan and 9’1.5 standing reach. Added to his impressive hops and his surprising quickness (11.82 seconds in lane agility and 3.00 seconds in shuttle run), he was a bear to shoot over last season, with a block percentage of 5.00 despite a less impressive 1.5 blocks per game average. He blocks shots well both on the ball and coming from the weak side and possesses both good timing and a knack for contesting shots without picking up fouls. Allen definitely has the skills to be an elite shot blocker in a few years.

Part of the reason for Allen’s lower-than-expected block numbers was his usage as a power forward at Texas, which drew him away from the basket for parts of the game. However, playing the four did showcase another aspect of his defensive game — his ability to move his feet. His quickness measurements at the Combine aren’t just empty numbers, as he applied them to considerable effect out on the perimeter. While many opponents would try to break him down from the arc, Allen competed well and kept his man in front of him more often than not. The same held true of perimeter switches, which will prove important for him in the pick-and-roll-heavy NBA. He even showed a nice ability to disrupt and deflect the ball in these situations with his long arms and came away with the odd steal now and then.

But Allen is far from a finished product on defense and has plenty of room to improve. For one, the results that will come from an NBA strength program will benefit him the most here. Although he weighed in at 234lbs at the Combine, he can probably carry 250lbs comfortably before it starts to cost him in other areas. Adding that extra bulk will allow him to more effectively hold position on defense, as he found himself at the mercy of stronger opponents around the paint once they got into his body. He was often criticized in this regard for not showing more fight, but that seems unfair. Yes, he could have battled more, but considering his strength disadvantage, any increased fight he showed would have likely correlated to an increase in fouls that a bad Texas team couldn’t afford to have him pick up.

After his lack of strength, which was his biggest issue defensively, Allen could stand to tighten his defensive fundamentals. He can get stood up too often, allowing opponents to blow past him when this happens. He also occasionally drifts on defense, loses sight of his man, or just finds himself out of position in team defensive schemes. Generally, teams will look for an improved focus and adherence to defensive principles from Allen as he progresses, which is not unusual for a player who just recently turned 19.

Allen’s defense will get him on the court as a rookie, but his own effort will determine how long he stays there. He has nearly all the tools to be an elite defender right now, and the strength he is lacking will come in time. He profiles as a mobile defender who makes opponents think twice before putting up a shot over him, and in an NBA that increasingly eschews lumbering big men, that defensive profile will draw long looks from GMs around the league.

Rebounding

This is another area of Allen’s game that should improve as his body matures. He averaged 8.5 rebounds per game for the Longhorns and did so mostly through length and athleticism alone. His arm length especially proved valuable to him, as he could get to the ball in the air before most competing players and demonstrated an impressive rebounding radius.

Allen collected three offensive rebounds per game, most of them coming by simply hanging around the basket and being long. When not doing that, he demonstrated decent pursuit by flying into the paint after misses. Many of his defensive rebounds (5.4 per game) were of the same variety.

But rebounding is about more than just pure athleticism. It requires the strength to carve out space, box out opponents, and hold one’s ground — none of which Allen performed well in. Just as would happen against stronger opponents on defense, Allen would routinely get pushed under the basket or be denied position altogether by burly rebounders, and if he couldn’t reach over them, he was out of luck.

He does not have a nose for rebounds like some players do, but there is no reason he can’t tack on a handful more boards to his average once he fills out his frame and be a consistent double-digit rebounder for his career.

Desire

Here is the nagging question on most talent evaluators’ minds: How hot does Jarrett Allen’s fire burn? His physical tools are gaudy, but that was the case for JaVale McGee and Jan Vesely and any number of players. Leading into June 22, that is what teams will work to get a read on the best.

The question stems from Allen’s inconsistent play this season. He appeared to go through the motions too often to the extent that he seemed disengaged. The frustrating part — and what kept scouts coming back — was that he would wedge enough good efforts in between to keep hope alive but not enough to convince anyone that he’d turned a corner. Fran Fraschilla even questioned whether Allen knew how to play hard.

That was the case through about mid-January, but over the final 18 games of the season, Allen looked like a different player. His numbers jumped from 10.7 points and 7.7 rebounds to 15.6 points and 9.1 rebounds, and he had his best outing of the season against the Kansas Jayhawks in Kansas on Jan. 21 (22 points, 19 rebounds, three blocks). But the biggest difference was his demeanor, as he began playing with an improved spirit and confidence. So what changed?

Allen told The Vertical’s Shams Charania during the Combine that “about midway through the season, I came in and told myself, ‘Jarrett, you’ve gotta stop worrying about all the negatives that happen. You’ve just gotta play your game, and you’ll be fine.’”

Allen is a quiet, thoughtful kid. He enjoys building computers in his spare time and showed an interest in attending class at Texas rather than viewing classes as a necessary evil on his path to being a one-and-done player. But that thoughtfulness can lead to overthinking in a sport where reaction is paramount, and it definitely appeared he was overthinking things early in his college career, which in turn damaged his confidence. Once he got out of his own head, though, he immediately improved and began reminding everyone why he was such a highly recruited prospect coming out of high school.

There are also those who would have liked to see him compete harder against opponents and used his occasional passivity to question his motor. This line of thinking would hold more credence if he were a stronger player, but fighting harder or being “nastier” in a situation where you are clearly overmatched is a recipe for collecting fouls. He competed well when he had equal footing with an opponent, but it would be preferable to see him improve his technique on the floor rather than upping his “nasty” quotient. The latter without the former leads to nothing but problems.

The final word on Allen’s desire will be left to a Southwest Division executive who spoke to NBA.com’s David Aldridge:

“No 6-11, 7-footer, went into the league loving the game. The only question you have then is, do you like it enough to work at it? He’s a smart kid. He is like a no-worries, no maintenance kid. If you tell him to be in the gym at 9, he’ll be there at 8; not because he wants to please you, but just because that’s the kind of kid he is. He’s just a very smart kid. If he wasn’t playing basketball, he would have no issues, no worries. He’s shy and reserved, but if you loosen him up a little there’s some personality there. I think he cares more than people think.”

Final Analysis

Jarrett Allen is a long-term play in this draft. His profile compares favorably to some of the best defensive centers from the past 10-15 years, but whatever team takes him will not see a substantial return on its investment for at least a couple seasons. That does not mean he cannot contribute in 2017-18, only that, as with any 19-year-old, he has a lot of growth to experience physically, mentally, and emotionally before he can reach his ceiling and be any team’s answer at the five. There is risk here, but Allen could just as easily be one of those significant risers in the inevitable “The way it should have been” re-drafts a few years from now.