CLEVELAND — It doesn’t take an expert’s eye to see the impact that center Jarrett Allen has made on the Cleveland Cavaliers in the two months since he was acquired in a three-team blockbuster trade. However, an expert can shed light on the finer points of Allen’s impact in Cleveland and what that might look like in the years to come.
Cue Jim Chones.
Chones, an NBA champion, longtime broadcaster, and Greater Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame Inductee, spent five seasons playing for the Cavs from 1974-79. He spent 11 seasons as the TV color analyst and continues to be a radio analyst for the Cavs.
He knows a thing or two about playing at center in Cleveland. Chones believes Allen is a player with incredible raw talent who may be one of the bigger pieces the Cavs needed to become a competitive team once again.
‘How did they pull that off?’
On Jan. 13, the Cavaliers acquired center Allen and forward Taurean Prince from the Brooklyn Nets while sending guard Danté Exum and a 2022 unprotected first-round pick via Milwaukee to the Houston Rockets in the James Harden trade.
Chones said that when he found out Allen was on his way to Cleveland—and the deal general manager Koby Altman made to get him—it was almost hard to believe.
“How did they pull that off?” Chones said of his initial reaction to the trade. “Jarrett Allen had already shown glimpses of tremendous ability and by his focus on defense, he's shown that he can alter games and change games in your favor.”
Although he had a limited role with the Nets, Chones was intrigued with what Allen’s talent could do for the Cavs, having seen so much potential even in the small capacity in which it had been presented.
“Even with the limited time he was playing with the Nets, they sort of had him pigeonholed. He was only allowed to do a few things, and he did them exceptionally well. And then when you consider his age—so when the Cavaliers acquired him and then we had a chance to see him play, that sort of increased the competitive potential of this team because of the dramatic impact he was having in just a limited amount of time that I was able to see him play,” Chones said.
Impact is such a general statement, though. What does it really mean? What is it exactly that makes Allen wearing wine and gold so thrilling?
‘He’s a unique asset'
On any given night, Allen’s presence can be felt on both ends of the court. In the 23 games he’s played, Allen has recorded a double-double in 11 of them—racking up the boards and the points. So far this season, Allen is averaging 13.5 points per game, 9.9 rebounds per game and is shooting 66.9% from the field—50% from the three.
That well-rounded game is something that Chones said makes Allen a very special player.
“He defends, he can shoot. He's shown us three-point range—three straight games in a row he made a three-pointer. He can pass. He leads the league in field goal percentage because he knows how to finish, and he's mobile,” Chones said. “But the most unique thing I think he brings to the table is what we call his horizontal game, which has more to do with his mentality and his mindset.”
The horizontal game is an aspect Chones embraced and made a focal point during his time in the league.
“The harder he plays, the stronger is his resolve, and I watch that because in my time, we always felt that: If I compete against you, even if you're an All-Star or whatever you happen to be, and I give you everything I've got every time down the floor on both ends, at some point it's going to work in my advantage,” Chones said. ”Because either fatigue will become a factor or you'll just give in because you're tired of competing against this 6-foot-11 in-between center/power forward named Jim Chones.”
That resolve on the court makes him a worthy adversary for anyone competing against the 6-foot-11 center named Jarrett Allen.
Chones said that what Allen does, and that not every player has the proficiency to do, is his refusal to get caught up in who he’s competing against and making himself his biggest competition—focusing on how he can be the best player he can be without the outside notion of what he’ll be able to do each night against each team’s best players.
“He's smart, and he plays against himself, and he's not all caught up in, 'I got to outplay [Joel] Embiid, I got to outplay [Nikola] Jokic.' He's playing his game,” Chones said. “So that takes a unique type of mentality in order to maintain that and trust yourself and not get caught up in, 'I have to get you back,' like a lot of our so-called superstar players do.”
In acquiring Allen, the Cavaliers have found their needle in a haystack when it comes to the type of player he is and can be, Chones said.
“You can't think of any player in our league that approaches the game that plays with him as far as his physical appearance, as far as his actions on the court, his demeanor and even what he does, there is no other player in our league like him. He's a unique asset,” Chones said.
‘Here is this center who's mobile, who can run with them.’
We’re talking about Allen, but in order to really define the impact he has on the team, one must look at some of the players around him—including the young, explosive backcourt of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland.
Sexton, while playing his signature style of playmaking basketball and also showing development in his passing and shot selections this season, is averaging 24.1 points per game and 4.5 assists while shooting 48.7%—besting his previous season averages.
Garland, meanwhile, is averaging 16.1 points per game, 5.9 assists per game and, when healthy, is providing a boost to the backcourt alongside Sexton each night.
“We have two of the most dynamic guards I've seen in a long time on the same team, at the same time. They don't give a defense any rest. They both can penetrate at will, no one has been able to slow them down but themselves,” Chones said.
And while the dynamic duo is impressive on its own, add in Allen and you’ve got yourself the missing piece of the player puzzle.
“Usually what happens when you have two dynamic guards who can play fast, a lot of times you get stuck with the center or power forward who play a lot of minutes and have impact on the game, and they can't get up and down the floor in order for those young players to feature what they do best,” Chones said. “But here is this center who's mobile, who can run with them.”
Chones couldn’t help but rave about the backcourt of Garland and Sexton, who he said are only better with Allen on the court.
“That young backcourt—oh, my goodness. You really have to focus on what they're doing, who they are playing. Some of the teams that we've outplayed have shown some weaknesses in their guard play because our guards are so unique,” Chones said. “They're taking turns, now all of a sudden, they're finding the open man so they're adding assists. They're both tenacious on defense, meaning that they make the effort, they're not cheating. They're helping because they got big Jarrett back there and they've got a big guy who they can run with. You can almost say it doesn't make a difference who they have at the power forward or the small forward because those three by themselves can dominate things and make it easier for whoever fits those other slots.”
Chones, a mobile center in his day, said that watching Sexton and Garland has been exciting, but they were just missing that one piece in Allen.
“In order to make it really work, you have to put those two guards with someone who can play with them. And the guy that can play with them is Jarrett Allen. He can get up and down the floor on both ends,” Chones said. “And most people say, ‘Well, that's why they brought him in, to protect the guards because of his size.’ Size is not an issue in our league anymore. What is an issue is skill set. What can you do with what you have? What impact can your skill set have upon the game? And with Jarrett Allen—he gets up and down the floor with them.”
Chones provided that kind of mobility for Dick Snyder and Jimmy Cleamons, so he knows what kind of impact that athleticism can have (i.e. The Miracle of Richfield).
“That is a beautiful feeling in a secure feeling for a guard—that I've got a big, I've got Garland on one side, I'm Sexton and I'm on the other side—and then the pressure we're putting on teams, they have to make some decisive decisions in a short amount of time because we can score and we're in attack mode,” Chones said. “I just think what you're seeing is a unique style of play that nobody is playing right now. And we're getting this from these two young guys, and now we have a center they can play with that.”
Allen’s impact comes down to the two basic principles of any game-changing player—athleticism and intelligence. And Chones says that Allen is still using his raw talent to evolve and increase the impact he has in Cleveland.
“He's still experimenting on what impact he can have with his current skill set. His current skill set is athleticism and smarts,” Chones said. “He's a thinker, he's seeing stuff before it happens. That's why he can play fast. You can't play fast unless you have an idea of what's going to happen before it happens. That's what makes the speed of the game so unique.
“The Cavs seem to always score when they get the ball down to the other end in a hurry because they're in open space...because you're down the court before the defense, [that] brings a tremendous advantage for this young Cavalier team and that's what he's figuring out. How else can I help this team?”
‘Don't be so concerned about making mistakes.’
As Chones made clear, Allen is an incredible talent that will help the Cavaliers’ competitiveness in years to come. But at 22 years old, Allen is very young and his game is still developing.
Allen will have plenty of obstacles to overcome and ways he can improve himself as a player, but right now Chones said the most important message the Cavs are sending Allen throughout his development is to let his skills do the talking.
“The focus has been for him to just fit in and let your skills take over. Don't be so concerned about making mistakes,” Chones said. “We have to give them time to get better. We have to put them in situations and see how they handle it and then go forward from there. And that's what the Cavs have done.”
‘It may happen next year where he becomes a twofold player.’
The 2020-21 season for the Cavaliers was not one that many people expected to be full of success or in which the team would contend. Now, with the progression of Garland and Sexton over the first half of the season and the addition of Allen to complement the team, there is a sense of promise in the way Cleveland is playing basketball.
But what about next year? How will Allen fit in as the team continues to improve and what will his role be as he settles into what appears to be the long-term starting center position?
Chones believes Allen may start to create his own offense as he grows as a player.
“There's two ways to score—either someone gives you the ball in the places where you can be effective, or you have the ability to get there on your own. What he's developing now is a way that he can get there on his own. That's the part of his game offensively that he'll develop over time,” Chones said.
Allen’s shooting is one of his most impressive attributes. Because he’s shooting at such an efficient level (58.9%), that is an area that the Cavs might find themselves working towards developing even further for Allen.
“We know what they can do off the high dribble screen and then his quick release, and he gets the alley-oop. We know what he can do when he gets the offensive rebound and puts it back in. But the next phase for him would be to run something for him in the post or out on the wing and let him do his thing—one or two dribbles, be efficient in it or catch and shoot, something to that effect, which now we realize he has the ability to do,” Chones said. “That's something that may not happen this season, but it may happen next year where he becomes a twofold player, meaning that he can get his stuff through the offense, but he can also create for himself.”
‘I can't compare him to anybody. And I think that is great.’
In the conversation with Chones, a veteran of the game who played alongside and against some of the greats, it would have been a missed opportunity to not ask who Allen reminded him of—either a player from the past or one playing now who has been in the league longer than the Cavs’ new center.
But Chones expressed how special Allen was before—and that did not change when it came down to comparing him to others. Allen is a player Cavs fans will likely have fun watching for a very long time because of his unlikeness to anyone else on the court.
“I can't compare him to anybody. And I think that is great. The uniqueness of him is that you can't compare him to anybody who plays, and you can't compare him to any players in the past that I can really think of because think about the way he plays,” Chones said. “Think about the uniqueness of that and you see him sometimes get bounced around and he gets right back up, keeps playing. Think about how good he's going to be once he gets stronger. Think about how good he's going to be once he's had a chance to play 82 games with Garland and Sexton.
“I mean this kid is just a unique talent.”
Camryn Justice is a digital content producer at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.
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