Heading into the season, Thomas Allen Jr. was the one question mark in what was projected as one of the best starting lineups in the Big Ten. He showed some flashes as a freshman, but little more than that as he averaged 3.2 points in 9.9 minutes with 13 scoreless games and just two double-digit ones.
Allen got off to a slow start offensively this year, trying to find his place with the veteran group of James Palmer Jr., Isaac Copeland Jr., Glynn Watson Jr. and Isaiah Roby. He hit double figures just one time in his first nine games, a 10-point outing against Southeastern Louisiana, but he made an impact in other ways with a 2.2-to-one assists-to-turnover ratio and 1.9 steals per game.
Then Allen broke out against Creighton, scoring a career-high 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Since then, he’s cracked double digits in four of his eight games. During that nine-game stretch, Allen averaged 10.7 points (up from 7.0) on 50.7 percent from the field, 44.8 percent from 3 and 11-of-12 from the foul line. He dished out 19 assists and grabbed 14 steals while turning the ball over just four times.
Coach Tim Miles said confidence has been the key for Allen.
“We’ve known Tom has that gear, so we’ll talk to him about finding his next gear,” Miles said. “He’s a casual, laid-back person and sometimes he’ll play that way. When he shows that gear, he can be really successful because he can shoot the ball, he passes the ball well and he’s a crafty finisher.”
Allen has seen a slight uptick in his effectiveness inside the arc over the last eight — about five percent — but the biggest key has been the 3-ball. After starting the season 9-of-27 from deep, Allen — known as a sharp-shooter in high school — is 13-of-29 over his last nine games. He’s made at least one 3 in each of those games.
“Just him having more confidence and being more focused on both sides of the ball, just playing freely out there,” Palmer said of Allen’s recent success.
A deeper dive into Allen’s play reveals that the sophomore might be ready for a larger role. I tweeted this during the second half of Nebraska’s loss to Michigan State on Thursday.
The Core 4 are 13-46 from the field in this game. Thomas Allen is 3-5. Probably should look to get him more involved. #Nebrasketball
— Jacob Padilla (@JacobPadilla_) January 18, 2019
Allen took two more shots the rest of the way, both 3-pointers, and neither one was a particularly good look.
On the season, Allen is eighth on the team in shots per 40 minutes at 9.3… behind the other four starters, sixth man Nana Akenten and both walk-ons, Justin Costello and Johnny Trueblood. Looking at conference games only, he’s taking a full shot less per 40 (despite shooting much better from the field than Akenten in Big Ten games).
According to Synergy, nearly 40 percent of Allen’s possessions have come as a spot-up shooter (which includes both jumpers and drives out of spot-up situations). He’s rated as “excellent,” scoring 1.148 points per possession, shooting 49 percent with three turnovers on 54 possessions.
Allen is at his best in the open floor, and he’s pretty good at getting there. He’s finished 30.5 percent of his possessions (43, to be precise) in transition and is scoring 1.279 points per possession (“excellent”). He’s 23-of-37 (62.2 percent) in transition with four turnovers and two trips to the free-throw line. Unfortunately, a team can only do so much to generate fat break opportunities; that’s not something you can always control or rely upon Beyond those two play types, however, Allen hasn’t been very involved offensively.
His next play type is the pick-and-roll, and it only makes up 12.1 percent of his possessions. He’s finished 17 plays as the pick-and-roll ball-handler and has scored 16 points (“excellent” at 0.941 points per possessions). Allen is 4-of-11 with three fouls drawn and three turnovers. If you add the passing element to the picture, he’s even better as Thomas Allen pick-and-rolls are scoring 1.081 points per possession overall, rated “excellent” and in the 89th percentile. Allen can make the reads in the pick-and-roll, and I think he deserves more chances to run them.
Allen has only used nine possessions each in off-screen and hand-off situations, and he’s 2-of-8 from the field in both. However, he’s been excellent in catch-and-shoot situations overall, scoring 1.333 points per possession on 27 possessions, and he’s at 1.588 points per possession when he’s unguarded. Allen’s jump shot is a weapon and Nebraska needs to use it more.
Thomas Allen is a sophomore among upperclassmen in Nebraska’s starting five, and it’s only natural that he’d look to defer to seniors like Palmer, Watson and Copeland. When those guys are rolling, Nebraska certainly needs to let them go and ride them to victory. However, when Palmer and Watson are struggling as much as they did against the Spartans, perhaps calling a couple of plays for Allen and featuring him more would be a way to find an additional source of efficient offense.
If defenses have to worry about all five guys in the lineup, it’s going to be much harder to take Palmer or Copeland or whoever out of the equation. Establish Allen as a consistent threat, and in turn his gravity makes things easier on the upperclassmen.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.