Some things in life are unexplainable. One such thing is Vinny Del Negro receiving a second NBA head coaching job. Another is how Luke Harangody shoots like a seizure-ing raccoon, yet still makes a fair percentage of his jumpers. A third is that Mikki Moore was once considered the Celtics' missing piece.
One more unexplainable occurrence? The normally productive "Ray Allen plus four bench players" lineup is playing quite poorly. Around this time last season, that lineup (albeit with a different bench) was producing at an impressive clip.
Zach Lowe, writing for CelticsHub at the time, praised Allen's ability to make his teammates better. Allen, Eddie House, Rasheed Wallace, Marquis Daniels and Shelden Williams had combined to play 72 minutes as a unit. They had scored 127 points per 100 possessions, and allowed only 93.
We had reason to believe Allen's presence was an important cause of the unit's impressive play: When Paul Pierce played with the same four reserves, the production dropped drastically. Pierce had played 57 minutes with that lineup, and the unit had scored 101 points per 100 possessions, allowing 116 themselves.
The "Ray Allen makes bench players better" trend was also evident in 2008-'09, and in 2007-'08. Allen has actually shown an ability to make bench players better for quite some time. According to Lowe, Allen's positive effect on bench teammates dates all the way back to his time in Seattle.
Fast forward to the present. This year's "Allen and four bench players" lineup isn't playing well at all (105.63 points scored/100 possessions, 128.17 points allowed/100 possessions), and Doc has all but abandoned the "Pierce and four bench players" unit.
So, umm, what's going on? Why are the four bench players (now Robinson, Daniels, Erden and Davis) suddenly better off when joined by Von Wafer or Delonte West?
Maybe Allen simply doesn't mesh well with this year's second unit. The unit is quite different from last year's, indeed. The most important difference might be the change from Eddie House to Nate Robinson. House, like Robinson, is far from a pure point guard. But they are very different players. House was uncomfortable with the ball in his hands, while Robinson does not at all mind pounding the basketball into the court. I imagine, for a shooter like Allen, it's more difficult to play with Robinson than it was to play with House.
Another possibility is that this trend is only an insignificant aberration, which will be cured with a larger sample size. The "Allen plus four bench players" unit has played only 41.5 minutes together. That's less than a full game. While it is enough to begin drawing conclusions from, the conclusions may not be perfect until the sample size increases.
Or maybe, just maybe, Allen has more to do with this trend than we'd think. As Ryan DeGama noted in a phenomenal post for Celtics Hub, Allen has become more of a "shot maker" than a "shot creator." At this stage in his career, Allen scores most of his points because of other players' play-making abilities. More of his shots are assisted than ever before. That's fine when Rondo is creating opportunities and Allen is cashing in. It's great, even. While creating less of his own offense, Allen (arguably the greatest three-point shooter ever) is putting together the greatest three-point shooting season of his career.
But when he plays with the second unit, Allen needs to become more of a play-maker than a finisher. At this stage of his career, is he still capable of doing that? Is he still capable of raising the level of his teammates' play? Can he still take four bench players and make them all better? Is he showing the effects of age in ways less noticeable than shooting percentages or scoring averages?
Truthfully, I'm not sure. But it's something to look at as the season progresses.