That’s the word Indiana Fever head coach Marianne Stanley selected from her pouch to describe Julie Allemand, the sparkling 24-year-old Belgian rookie running point with poise and precision in the Wubble.
“She just keeps going and going,” said Stanley, who is in her first year at the helm of the Fever after spending a decade as an assistant in Washington. “She’s about as hard-working a point guard as I’ve ever coached in my life, and I mean that sincerely. She never rests.”
Praise doesn’t get much higher than that.
A third-round draft pick of Indiana’s in 2016, Allemand spent years overseas honing her craft. In February, her efforts helped the Belgium National Team secure a spot in the upcoming Olympic Games. Now, her tireless legs are keeping the Fever afloat in a sink-or-swim season that’s testing the league’s collective resolve.
Reports out of Bradenton, Florida reveal an infectious personality on the loose in gold and navy blue. Teammates and coaches alike have peppered Allemand with glowing reviews since she joined the ballclub. Almost instantly, Allemand set the tone with impressive practices, earning her the role of starting point guard. We’ll dive into the specifics of her play shortly, but it was her conditioning that instantly stood out during a condensed training camp schedule.
“She’s in great shape,” said Stanley. “She came to us in terrific shape. She’s a true pro in the sense of making sure her body’s right, making sure she’s taking care of herself because she knows that she’s going to be out there for heavy minutes. We’re in a situation where she’s gotta get the job done. Without Erica Wheeler and with a young Kathleen Doyle, it’s falling on Julie’s shoulders and she’s shouldering that load like a pro. I’m not surprised.”
Spend a little time conversing with Indiana’s delightful rookie and you’ll likely hear her use the phrase, “play my game.”
“The first thing I said when I came here is I don’t want to [put]any pressure on [myself],” said Allemand. “I just want to play my game. I just want to learn and be open-minded.”
So what does “playing her game” look like?
We’ll begin on the offensive end, as Indiana is third in the league in offensive rating through eight contests.
Do me a favor: go to the WNBA.com stats page and take a gander at the league’s assist leaders. Courtney Vandersloot (8.9 assists per game as of Wednesday morning) sits in first place, naturally. Diana Taurasi (5.9), one of the best to ever play the game, is in second. Allemand (5.8) follows in third place, ahead of the Point Gawd herself, Chelsea Gray (5.4). The rookie logged 11 assists in her third WNBA game for crying out loud! There’s good company and then there’s carving yourself into the current Mount Rushmore of assists alongside three Hall of Fame talents. In the “biz,” we call that “showing out.”
Allemand has already authored a series of highlight reel plays, but this dime to Kelsey Mitchell deserves the leadoff spot.
Allemand has already showcased a variety of ways in which she can distribute the ball. That’s a rare trait in a rookie and likely has much to do with her professional experience in Europe. It’s not just about passing to teammates. It’s about creating looks that weren’t there for Indiana the past three seasons, breezy looks versus laborious ones.
Allemand is quick with the ball in her hands and has a nose for the paint. She’s constantly probing, only her intention isn’t to hoist her own shot but rather to reel in the defense, drawing opponents closer and closer to the hoop. Once Allemand notices that she’s pried a defender a step or two away from an Indiana shooter, she strikes.
The first two possessions highlighted in the video above show Allemand seeking out Candice Dupree for mid-range jumpers. This is important. Dupree currently sports a .536 true shooting percentage, her highest mark in four seasons with the Fever. Allemand and Dupree have developed an easy and comfortable rhythm in the pick-and-pop, and Dupree appears to be playing with a renewed enthusiasm for putting the ball in the bucket. It’s not hard to figure out why. If you pause possession number one as Allemand releases her pass, you’ll notice four Dallas Wings defenders bunched together in the lane, leaving multiple Fever players wide open on the perimeter.
Now skip ahead to the 15-second mark, if you’re so inclined. Corner three-pointers are one of the most valuable shots in basketball for the offense. Allemand creates these looks with ease. Here, she gains a step on her defender – Minnesota’s Rachel Banham – drawing help from Bridget Carleton in the corner. Carleton rushes over to prevent an easy layup and ends up conceding an extra point as Allemand places the ball directly in Kennedy Burke’s shooting pocket. Cash.
Allemand is already drawing attention from WNBA defenses in all sorts of ways. She’s comfortable in the pick-and-roll, knowing when to pull the trigger on passes that maximize scoring potential. She pushes the tempo in transition when she senses mismatches materializing. Most notably, she’s a shooter!
This is where the Allemand scouting report gets spooky for WNBA head coaches not named Marianne. Pass-first point guards can be contained if their scoring ability isn’t respected. Julie Allemand is going to make you respect her shot.
Try this on for size: among players who’ve received at least 100 minutes in 2020, Allemand ranks third(!) in true shooting percentage, trailing only Los Angeles’s Sydney Wiese and Seattle rookie Ezi Magbegor. She’s shooting over 53 percent from deep, sixth among qualified players and featuring a much higher volume than everyone above her.
As is the case with her passing, Allemand is already a versatile shooter. Stanley uses Allemand like a swiss-army knife on and off the ball (you knew the clichés would come out to play eventually).
Possession No. 1: Teaira McCowan sets a screen on Washington’s Leilani Mitchell, who ices it. Allemand rejects the screen, takes advantage of the space she’s been given, and pops a trey.
Possession No. 2: Allemand probes, per usual, toasting her defender, Napheesa Collier, while drawing help from McCowan’s defender, Sylvia Fowles. She passes to Dupree, who fakes a mid-range jumper as Allemand relocates to the corner. Both Fowles and Collier stay with McCowan in the paint. Dupree underhands the rock to Allemand who knocks down the three.
Possession No. 3: Allemand sets a screen on Monique Billings, who is guarding Dupree. Both Billings and Chennedy Carter understandably focus on the fifth all-time leading scorer in WNBA history. So Allemand pops to the top of the key for three more undemanding points.
Allemand’s capability as a sharpshooter has allowed Stanley to use her interchangeably with Kelsey Mitchell in certain fundamental actions. Observe in the video below how Allemand and Mitchell trade places as the spot-up shooting threat and the pick-and-roll ball handler.
Now, I would like to present my final piece of evidence, exhibit A in the intoxicating offensive repertoire Allemand has put forth through seven games. Folks, here is Allemand beating the shot-clock buzzer by lofting a step-back three on her Belgian teammate and 2019 WNBA Finals MVP, Emma Meesseman:
Allemand’s fantastic feel for the game isn’t limited to one side of the ball. Let’s cut right to the defensive chase; a 5-foot-8 rookie blocking Sylvia Fowles this emphatically portends greatness. Period.
Stuffing Fowles is breathtaking, but the second possession shown above may be even more impressive. In the final few minutes of a close contest with Phoenix, the Mercury attacked Indiana in a fast-break opportunity. Allemand was the only member of the Fever ahead of the play. First, she cut off Bria Hartley’s path to the basket, forcing a pass to Brianna Turner. Then, Allemand scooted over to Turner and rejected her offering. Rookies aren’t supposed to do things like that on the basketball court.
It’s not a simple transition, guarding electric scorers and passers like Carter and Gray after years playing another style of defense in Europe.
“It’s so different,” Allemand said. “You know that every player here is so skillful and so strong. Something that I really learned here is that we help a lot more here. In Europe, we don’t help that much. That’s something that I really need to get better [at]. I know that sometimes I’m too late on the help.
“I also need to learn a lot from the referees because it’s so different than in Europe. Sometimes for me it’s not a foul but they call a foul. [A] lot of things are different but I need to get used to it.”
Allemand is her own harshest critic, another resoundingly positive sign for her future in the W. While it may be true that she can improve upon her help defense and fouling, the truth is, she’s already pretty darn solid in those areas.
Allemand ranks third in the WNBA in steal percentage among those who have played at least 10 minutes per game and appeared in at least four contests. Somehow, her block percentage is higher than 2019 Defensive Player of the Year, Natasha Howard. She’s extremely active in passing lanes and has exhibited a knack for knowing when to leak off her assignment and pressure the ball.
In the first possession, above, notice how comfortable Allemand is navigating the screen set by Billings before she deflects Shekinna Stricklen’s pass. Allemand is always moving, calculating where she can be most useful on the floor.
“She understands her role as a point guard,” said Stanley. “She just has a flair for the position. This is a young lady who leads the Belgian national team. They’re going to be in the Olympic Games. They’ve played a very heavy and difficult international circuit the last few years and she’s gotten better each time out.”
The most exciting part? Allemand still has plenty of room to grow. After notching a line of 10 points, 9 assists, and 7 rebounds in her fourth WNBA game against Atlanta, Allemand said she was pleased her team got the win but was frustrated with her own performance after turning the ball over five times. The rookie was one assist and three rebounds away from recording the ninth regular season triple-double in league history and she still was looking to learn and grow.
Allemand is among the league leaders in turnovers and turnover percentage. She could stand to be a little more aggressive attacking the hoop with her own shot in mind, looking to finish through contact and get to the foul line. Against Los Angeles, she did an admirable job guarding Gray on the perimeter but struggled when Gray took her into the post.
These blips are to be expected. Allemand is aware she has many areas she can improve in. That’s the takeaway here. No need to harp on a few minor negatives when there are an overwhelming number of positives.
“I think that every game has its own story,” Allemand reflected. “There’s always something different.”
I love that quote. It’s an astute and rather poetic observation from someone completely new to the WNBA scene but who has spent thousands of hours on the court. Speaking of different – the Fever will be able to throw a bunch of different looks and rotations into the mix when fellow guard Erica Wheeler returns from the COVID-19 protocol, which reportedly is set to happen soon. Talk about an embarrassment of riches.
Until then, Allemand will continue to cook as a starting point guard in the WNBA.
“I think she’s finally ready to come to the W and you’re seeing the fruits of her efforts,” Stanley said. “She’s worked her butt off to be here and to be ready for this moment. I couldn’t be happier with how she’s playing at the point.”
Julie Allemand, just playing her game.