Thursday, June 13 2024

Key Highlights: 

  • In sports, we use archetypes to help us understand player skill sets, but sometimes, those categorizations can be overly simplistic
  • Jarrett Allen’s skillset goes beyond that of conventional norms for traditional centers
  • Jarrett Allen is a better scorer, passer, and switch big than other traditional centers

In sports, we use archetypes to group players of similar roles/playstyles together. In a lot of situations, using archetypes can be instructive for understanding and comparing players’ games. But there are times when those archetypes can oversimplify a player’s skill set.

In this new article series, we will spotlight players who defy the conventional norms of their player archetype and bring a whole other element to their team.

The Rim Running Big

When people talk about Cleveland Cavaliers’ big man, Jarrett Allen, he often gets lumped in the traditional center archetype. In 2023-24, a traditional center is a strong screener, rim runner in pick-and-roll, and rim protector. Some examples of players who fall under this category (to varying levels of effectiveness) are Rudy Gobert, Ivica Zubac, Clint Capela, Daniel Gafford, and Walker Kessler.

Allen can do all those things. He’s in the 98th percentile in screen assists (per NBA.com), the 65th percentile in roll man efficiency (91st percentile in volume), and the 81st percentile in blocks percentage (per Dunks & Threes). But there is so much more to his game than those pieces.

A Plus Offensive Player

Gobert is an incredible defender, arguably the very best we have in the NBA. But he’s sometimes neutralized in the playoffs because of his limitations on the offensive end of the floor. He can set great screens and punctuate well-placed lobs. But there isn’t much else in his bag of tricks. Hence, his Offensive Estimated Plus-Minus (OFF EPM) being in the negatives in each of the last two seasons.

Opposing teams will try to exploit Gobert’s offensive shortcomings by putting smaller/weaker defenders on him. Occasionally, Gobert can punish these mismatches. But it doesn’t happen nearly enough. Allen, on the other hand, knows how to consistently make teams pay for trying to use him to play hide-and-seek. Like this:

While Gobert’s OFF EPM is currently at a -0.3, Allen’s is at a +1.9. Some of this is due to Cleveland boasting superior spacing to the Minnesota Timberwolves (when Evan Mobley is hurt). But most of this is due to Allen being a better scorer (Allen is in the 78th percentile in scoring volume, and Gobert is in the 52nd percentile).

Allen also has more range than most of these traditional centers. He’s not stretching the floor from the perimeter. However, he’s mastered the shot that is supposed to kill giants like him: the floater. On the year, Allen is hitting 55% of his short midrange jumpers, which ranks in the 91st percentile among bigs (per Cleaning the Glass).

Allen is also a better passer than most traditional centers. He’s not as good as some of the passing bigs of other archetypes. But Allen knows how to operate as the facilitating hub in elbow actions (think about what Nikola Jokic, Alperen Sengun, and Domantas Sabonis do) or as a passer in the short roll.

When he was with the Miami Heat, Max Strus used to spam two-man actions with Bam Adebayo – a common relationship for a movement shooter and passing hub to have. Now, in Cleveland, Strus hasn’t skipped a beat (some may say he’s even improved). And it’s largely because Allen has been able to fill the void left by Adebayo for him.

Thanks to his handoff and pick-and-roll synergy with Strus, Allen is averaging a career-high assist percentage of 14% (76th percentile among bigs).

One of the best publicly-available measures of a player’s passing ability is Ben Taylor’s Passer Rating metric (an estimate of a player’s passing ability on an ‘approximately’ 1-10 scale). As it stands, Allen touts a Passer Rating of 5.7, which ranks in the 63rd percentile league wide. Look how that compares to some of the other traditional centers we’ve mentioned:

2023-24 Passer Rating*

Player Passer Rating
Jarrett Allen 5.7
Clint Capela 2.1
Daniel Gafford 4.3
Rudy Gobert  1.7
Walker Kessler 1.8
Ivica Zubac 2.6

*Data Provided by Thinking Basketball Database

That’s just a handful of cherry-picked names. If you look at other guys like Jalen Duren or Mark Williams, you get the same story. The point of the matter is that Allen is head and shoulders above other traditional centers as a passer.

Light On His Feet

Another drawback of this archetype is that, while they are masters at protecting the interior, they are susceptible to blowbys when they are forced out onto the perimeter. While not as graceful and agile as his teammate (the aforementioned Mobley), Allen is capable of tangoing with forwards and (some) wings on the exterior. Like he did with Mikal Bridges on this possession right here:

Allen isn’t a Swiss army knife defensive center (if he was, he’d probably be in a different archetype). But he’s versatile enough that, when you combine that with the other things he does better than his peers (like passing and scoring), Allen goes above and beyond what we normally assume about players of his archetype.

Source: Basketball Insider

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