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Jarrett Allen’s NBA Draft stock is rising for good reason

If you don’t think Jarrett Allen is a legitimate NBA prospect, just evaluate the final two months of the season.

NCAA Basketball: Texas at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

If Jarrett Allen’s name isn’t called at some point during the first round of June’s 2017 NBA Draft, it won’t be due to a lack of NBA interest.

Well it would be, actually, but the insufficient interest would have to stem from Allen, whom elected to keep his options on the table by declaring for the draft without signing an agent, which allows Allen to return to Texas for a sophomore season should he choose to bypass the pros.

Although there’s a convincing case to be made for each option, make no mistake about it: Allen is every bit of a legitimate NBA prospect, largely due to to the magic P-word — potential.

As college basketball’s regular season began winding down, the question of whether Allen had flashed enough potential to tempt NBA scouts or not had long faded. Virtually every game throughout conference play added to what’s become an increasingly impressive highlight reel and it’s now clear that if Allen wants to make a lot of money playing basketball, he won’t require another season among the college ranks to do so.

Sure, Allen has plenty of rough edges in need of polish and he’s an unlikely year-one impact contributor, which isn’t typically expected considering where he’s currently projected at No. 13, but drafting a versatile, two-way big man that’s just 18 years old is done with an end game in mind — how good will Allen be five, seven and 10 years from now?

Allen’s upward trajectory throughout what may prove to have been his only college season is telling of the kind of talent he can become once he discovers how to effectively tap into his repertoire on a consistent basis.

Throughout much of the non-conference action and even a few games into the Big 12 slate, Allen appeared almost destined for a return to Texas in 2017-18. Even with the flashes that were bound to come courtesy of his tremendous length and deceptive athleticism, the 6’11 Longhorn often looked the part of someone uncomfortable with the speed and physicality of the game. Furthermore, a passive person by nature — one who Shaka Smart says actually enjoys going to class and shies away from the spotlight — Allen’s transition to high-major basketball wasn’t aided by almost immediately being deemed the face of Smart’s program. Allen’s Longhorn career debuted with a 16-point, 12-rebound double-double against Incarnate Word, but his next three games produced just 19 total points and 17 total rebounds; against less than overwhelming competition, at that.

The inconsistencies continued until around mid-January and then it’s as if a switch flipped in his head.

Seemingly overnight — consider Jan. 11’s meeting with TCU as this breakthrough — Allen’s play began to match his preseason top-ranked freshman center label. After averaging just 10.7 points and 7.6 rebounds throughout the first 15 games of the season, the Jan. 11 TCU game sparked a five-game stretch in which Allen poured on 17.2 points and 11.4 rebounds each time out, including a 22-point, 19-rebound display in Allen Fieldhouse. Aside from a minor hiccup against Georgia, Allen maintained this imposing form for the remainder of the season and concluded averaging 16.2 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocked shots in Big 12 play.

But the improved stats are just a byproduct of why Allen’s started soaring up draft boards since announcing his intent to at least test the NBA waters.

In the most rudimentary way to describe it, Allen seemingly realized that far more often than not, he’s the most talented player on the court and his assertiveness reflected that. In the 15 games prior to the noted matchup with TCU, Allen was just a cog in the not-so-well-oiled machine that was Texas’ offense, often deferring to the options around him and averaging just 7.9 field goal attempts and 3.4 free throw attempts per game. When Allen was on the attack, his upside was apparent, but such sightings were few and far between in comparison to his second half of the season efforts.

Throughout the final 18 games of the season, though, Allen looked every bit of the five-star McDonald’s All-American he stepped onto the Forty Acres as and asserted himself accordingly, churning out 11 field goal attempts and 5.3 free throw attempts per game.

Simply put, Allen dominated on an almost nightly basis, utilizing a fairly polished offensive arsenal considering his age and essentially reveling something new each time out. On a far more consistent basis than the first half of the season, Allen flashed his athleticism, aggressively challenged defenses at the point of attack, confidently tested his mid-range game and basically began playing with a give me the ball and let me work mentality.

Another 20-point, 11-rebound display against Kansas was soon followed up by a 20-point, nine-rebound effort against Baylor and fellow NBA big man prospect Johnathan Motley, in which Allen also tallied three blocked shots.

The tools have been there, but Allen’s grasp of the game and realization of his own skill set just took a bit of time to catch up. When it did, it was a sight to see, at least for the time being — at the season dragged on, it was apparent that Allen was an NBA prospect in full right now.

What will have NBA scouts clamoring and what has Allen pegged as a potential lottery pick is despite the significant progress he displayed down the stretch, much of his game is still untapped into.

Consider this: The 18-game sample magnifying Allen’s progress occurred in essentially a two month span — Jan. 11 - Mar. 9.

In two short months, on a severely struggling team that denied Allen the national exposure that comes with the NCAA Tournament, the Austin native transformed from a project likely in line for a sophomore season to arguably the top big man prospect in June’s draft. Now declared for the draft, Allen has until May 24 — 10 days after the NBA Draft Combine — to decide whether he’ll stick with his initial decision or return to college for a sophomore season.

This time frame provides Allen — a prospect that’s experienced rapid development in short order — two and a half more months to cultivate his game on a player-first basis. Additionally he’ll likely be spending far more time in the gym on his own or with a trainer than the NCAA allows teams to do collectively during the season.

If the previous two months are of any indication, Allen’s upward trajectory isn’t going to slow any time soon, which is to be expected considering he’s just one of three 18-year-old big men projected to be taken in the first round of the NBA Draft. Pair that with Allen’s measurables and mold into an ideal modern-day big man and it’s not hard to get behind the idea of buying stock on the Longhorns freshman in the coming months.

With a tremendous 7’5.5 wingspan, an impressive low-post offensive game, improving jump shot after hitting 47.7 percent of two-point jumpers last season, rim-protecting potential evident in his 18 multiple-block games and proven rebounding ability (10.5 per 40), Allen is still far more of a raw prospect than a season product.

For NBA decision-makers, this screams draft steal if Allen’s still projected among the current late-lottery range he’s in now following the draft combine.

As a result, there should be no shortage of NBA franchises willing to bite the bait on Allen’s potential. The only real question remaining is whether or Allen is ready to bite on the big bucks and step into a role as a building block at the highest level or return to Texas as a cornerstone in 2017-18.