Jarrett Allen's impact on Cleveland Cavaliers: Not too flashy but darn good

Phoenix Suns v Cleveland Cavaliers
Phoenix Suns v Cleveland Cavaliers / Nick Cammett/GettyImages

Jarrett Allen has been the anchor of the NBA’s third-strictest defense while producing one of his best seasons on the attack. This year, he is first in total minutes and second in games logged of all Cleveland Cavaliers. He should have been an All-Star, but an All-NBA and an All-Defensive slot is not out of the question.

(Max Strus has played two fewer minutes than Allen in 2023-24.)

On the squad, Donovan Mitchell is the engine, but Allen is the transmission. In fact, Allen is one of the top offensive linemen in the NBA. He is fifth in screen assist points average, creating 9.9 points nightly when he sacrifices his body or sets a ghost pick, which buys his teammates the second or more needed to get a shot off. Keep in mind, the Cavaliers’ center also registers 2.7 dimes, a career-high.

Additionally, Allen puts pressure on the rim with a high volume of cuts. Whether a gash through the center or a baseline cut, Allen wants the rock back when the defense is ball-watching. Of all players, he is fifth in cutting frequency - it makes him a perfect combo for Spida, who creates overreactions easily in the lane.

He picks his cutting spots well. This makes him one of the most efficient players in the league, and only one All-Star big man in 2023-24 has had a higher effective field goal percentage than Allen (62.6%): Milwaukee Bucks forward/center Giannis Antetokounmpo (62.9).

His activity at close range also makes it easier to recover 3.4 offensive rebounds nightly, which he turns into a second effort or pass out to reset the offense. This season, 20 percent of Allen’s points are via extra tries.

Jarrett Allen does a bit of everything for the Cavaliers

His work was on full display as the Cavaliers waxed the Pelicans in New Orleans on Wednesday. There, Allen guarded and helped on Jonas Valančiūnas, Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson, finishing with a solid Defensive Field Goal Percentage (44.4, 8/18). He gave Ingram the most trouble, forcing three misses by tagging the drive as help when Isaac Okoro was beat, switching onto him to bait a tough jumper at the nail and contesting cleanly at the right wing on his catch-and-shoot three attempt.

Allen is one of the top centers that can’t be neutralized by spamming pick-and-roll against drop coverage. He can go to that scheme against poor shooters, blitz or switch. His biggest weakness on D is that he’s not as strong as pivots like Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokić or Mitchell Robinson, but he makes up for this shortcoming with a high IQ.

Minnesota Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert has been the league's best defender, but after him, the top spot is arguably Allen. Cleveland’s pivot doesn’t have the block totals of the French Usurper Victor Wembanyama for the San Antonio Spurs (3.4), but he is more versatile today on D because his lateral movements are sharper, and he doesn’t bite on as many fakes, giving up an avenue. Moreover, he is one of eight players this season with at least 45 blocks and 70 steals.

He stepped up big-time for the unit when Evan Mobley (knee) and Darius Garland (jaw fracture) were absent between December and January. Of course, Mitchell went nuclear, but Allen was next in importance as the Cavaliers claimed the third spot in this stretch while being the eighth seed on Dec. 16. From Dec. 8 through Jan. 26, Allen registered 16.4 points nightly on 62.5 percent shooting with 12 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.14 blocks and 1.14 steals while the Cavs went 15-7.

Recently, a left knee injury caused Mitchell to miss seven consecutive games. In that span, the Cavaliers went 3-4 while Allen averaged 18.4 points, making 53.5 percent of his field goal attempts, with 12.9 rebounds, 3 assists, 1.14 blocks and .71 steals.

Regardless of what happens, Allen will keep producing for the team at a high level, but with Mitchell back, the second seed is within their grasp. It’s presently held by the Milwaukee Bucks with a half-game lead over the Cavaliers and 18 matches left on the schedule.

Allen deserves recognition on one of the two All-Defensive teams, and it wouldn’t be a reach for him to make Third-Team All-NBA. He is a leader and two-way player with an unquestionable positive on-court impact on the others. His game isn’t flashy but the results are loud. With the playoffs quickly approaching, the Cleveland Cavaliers surely feel the impact of Jarrett Allen's dominant career season.