LAS VEGAS -- Everybody keeps asking Jarrett Allen why he is here. He told CBS Sports that he has fielded that question "more times than I can count," and he understands why. Three months ago Allen was in the NBA playoffs, trying to dodge All-NBA center Joel Embiid's elbows. On Sunday he owned the paint while matched up against Naz Reid, an undrafted rookie out of LSU, in a summer league semifinals game.
Allen knows that people think he is too good for summer league, that he doesn't need to be slumming it. He sees it differently. He wanted to get these runs in.
"I don't expect everybody to know why I'm playing here," the Brooklyn Nets center said. "Everybody has a different perspective. But I think inside the organization we know why."
In Brooklyn, Allen is one of the young guys. He turned 21 during the Nets' first-round series, and he is highly regarded in part because he is a quick learner and seeks out knowledge from veterans. In Vegas, Allen is a certified vet himself, with significantly more NBA experience than anyone else on the roster. He has seen every type of defense, he has guarded all kinds of different players and he feels ready for "any situation that is thrown at me," he said. And he wants the responsibility of showing his teammates the ropes.
"I feel like I had a pretty good season last year," Allen said. "I have a lot to show 'em. I have a lot of knowledge in my mind that I can share with them."
Allen is naturally quiet and unassuming. At the Thomas & Mack Center, though, he is clearly audible yelling instructions on defense. He even calls out picks from the bench. Sometimes, he finds himself learning by teaching, seeing his own areas of improvement as he corrects teammates' mistakes. After getting a taste of postseason pressure, Allen has found it challenging to break out of his playoff mentality. He wants to make the right play on every possession, even though summer league affords him an opportunity to experiment.
Against the Detroit Pistons on Friday, Allen was a force, overpowering their front line for 30 points on 11-for-15 shooting in 24 minutes, with 11 rebounds, two blocks and two steals. He was on his way to a similarly dominant stat line on Sunday against the Minnesota Timberwolves, but his evening ended with a thud when he took a grimace-inducing fall in the third quarter. In 20 minutes, he finished with 15 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks, making a statement every time he grabbed an offensive rebound in traffic or finished through contact. Allen is still growing into his 6-foot-11 frame, but he is getting more comfortable pushing people around.
Allen has been the Nets' starting center since halfway through 2017-18, his rookie year. Now, however, he has some competition. Coach Kenny Atkinson did not publicly commit to him or DeAndre Jordan as a starter at a press conference last week, but Allen plans on retaining his role. Regardless of what the rotation looks like in the regular season, though, he is glad that he got to spend more time on and off the court with players like Rodions Kurucs, Dzanan Musa and Nicolas Claxton. Before the games began, there was a team dinner, and, according to Allen, this group of young guys actually made an effort to stay off their phones.
"Everybody was really in tune with everybody," he said. "We weren't separated. We had two tables but we were still throwing jokes at each other from across the table."
More than anything else that happened in Vegas, that night is what Allen will remember. All of this, even the team bonding, is a part of Allen's -- and Brooklyn's -- continued development. Throughout the summer, he will see some of his summer league teammates at the HSS Training Center in Sunset Park. Unlike most other teams, the Nets have a large contingent of players who stick around, scrimmage and work out together.
"The Nets just do stuff differently," Allen said. "Every player, every past player, you just hear, at least in the Sean Marks era, that they've never been a part of a team or a front office that does it like that."
In the first couple of years of Allen's career, Brooklyn has been largely defined by that kind of thing: the culture, the small army that composes its training staff, the commitment to making its players better. The arrival of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving changed the whole story. Even with Durant likely missing all of next season, the Nets are no longer a bunch of charming, humble overachievers; they are a juggernaut-in-waiting. Allen called this motivating and exciting. He also said he doesn't exactly know what to expect. All he can do is try to raise his game. If his presence at summer league is any indication, he will do whatever it takes.