Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Wilt Chamberlain. Nikola Jokic. Jarrett Allen.
One of those players is not like the other, and not simply that Nikola Jokic never wore an afro. Jarrett Allen is an excellent player, but he has never won a league MVP and has just one All-Star appearance. Over the last week, however, he has started to flex his muscles and take a step forward, carrying a short-handed Cleveland Cavaliers team.
Allen dropped 19 points, 17 rebounds and a whopping seven assists in an upset win over the Chicago Bulls, a win they logged with Donovan Mitchell and Caris LeVert out of the lineup in addition to Darius Garland and Evan Mobley. Then it was 24 points, 23 rebounds and six assists in an even bigger upset win over the Dallas Mavericks, the first time in franchise history that a player put up that statline. Allen could not be stopped.
Friday night the Cavaliers were hosting the Milwaukee Bucks, however, a team with the towering Brook Lopez inside and Giannis Antetokounmpo flying around in help defense. Allen dominating the undersized or ill-equipped front lines of Chicago and Dallas was one thing; he would surely come back to earth against the league's blocks leader, right?
Wrong. Allen showed up in a major way, scoring 30 points on 15-for-17 shooting and adding another 12 rebounds and six assists. That combination of production and efficiency has only been matched in NBA history by three other players: Wilt Chamberlain. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Nikola Jokic.
Each of those players has at least two MVPs to their name. Each has won at least one championship. Each is mentioned in any conversation of the greatest offensive players of all time. Each is easily a Top-20 player of all time, with Jokic continuing to move up the list.
Jarrett Allen is not those players. He will never win a league MVP. Yet what he has been accomplishing over the past week is suggesting that his growth as a palyer is not done. In addition to being one of the best rim protectors in the league, Allen is taking a step forward as a rebounder and as a scorer inside, in a way that three consecutive teams have been unable to stop.
This growth hasn't only come in the past week. Allen shot 12-of-14 against the Atlanta Hawks a few weeks ago in the first game after it was announced that Garland and Mobley would be out for an extended period of time. He shut down Nikola Jokic in another short-handed win over the Denver Nuggets in a November matchup, logging a whopping +42 plus-minus in the game.
This past stretch has been special, however. "Game Score" is a metric that grades each game for a player based on their box score stats, and his three highest scorers this season have come in his last three games.
To push the comparisons even further, 23 times in NBA history a player has put up at least 73 points, 52 rebounds and 19 assists. The names on the list are mostly a who's who of productive big men; Kareem, Jokic, Bill Walton, Antetokounmpo, Charles Barkley. None of them shot as efficiently as Allen did over those three games (69.8 percent).
This isn't meant to say that Allen is suddenly going to become an MVP candidate, but he could be redefining his future with the Cavaliers. Has his success made him indispensable to the Cavs when Mobley returns? Has it lifted his trade value to the level that Cleveland could entertain trading him? Has it proven they can't afford to trade him, or proven they need to embrace a future with shooting at power forward?
Jarrett Allen just put up one of the most dominant stretches in the history of the Cleveland Cavaliers franchise. He may not be done yet, as the schedule is favorable heading into the new year. What we do know is that the Cavaliers would be in a much worse position if it wasn't for their man in the middle.