Were the reports of Ray Allen's demise last spring -- pardon the painful cliche -- greatly exaggerated?
Yes and no. If you were watching the veteran shooting guard down the stretch last year, perhaps paying particular attention to the career-worst shooting slump he suffered throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs, you'd be hard-pressed to deny it. Allen was titanically struggling -- on this, both the numbers and the eye test emphatically agree. He looked like a 36-going-on-37-year-old with just too much mileage on him. This appeared to be the end.
Then again, to judge the career of a Hall of Fame player based on a couple of bad months he endured while not entirely healthy? At best, that's a tad shortsighted. At worst, it's totally bonkers.
Let's zoom out a little bit. The tail end of Allen's time in Celtic green does not show an overall decline. Much the opposite, in fact -- Allen set a career high two seasons ago by shooting 44.4 percent from 3-point range, at age 35 no less. Then last year, at 36? A new career best, at 45.3 percent. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that the first month of the 2011-12 season, despite the Celtics' mediocre record, was the best month of Allen's time in green. He was dropping treys at a ferocious pace -- 6-for-8 one game, then 6-for-7 another, 4-for-5 another. Then injuries set in.
Allen's first ankle troubles arose in late January. They kept dogging him for the rest of the season, forcing him to sit out 19 of the Celtics' final 51 games, and even when he did play, he was often brushed aside in favor of the younger, quicker Avery Bradley in Doc Rivers' starting five.
Allen was back with the starters for the playoffs, but Rivers clearly wasn't happy about it, notably referring to the banged-up vet as "all over the place, leaning, going sideways, falling forward" as he attempted to fight through the bone spurs plaguing his right ankle.
He shot 28-for-92 in last year's playoffs. Twenty-eight for ninety-two. He'd never shot that poorly in his life, and it turned more than a few Boston diehards into doubters. Was the old man finished?
An optimist might say that a player of Allen's skill set ages well -- that he doesn't need a youngster's speed or quickness as long as he has his perfectly honed shooting form. And, well, that makes sense at first, until you think about it for a second and realize it's completely bogus.
Allen thrived during his early years in Boston because he could move. His role in the Celtics' offense wasn't to stand around the perimeter and wait for his teammates to dole out wide-open jumpers; it was to dash around countless screens, beat help defenders by fractions of steps, and knock down shots within split-seconds. Thanks to years (decades?) of practice, the man always looked cool and collected, but make no mistake -- his job was grueling physically, and age didn't make it any easier.
Ray Allen is now with the Miami Heat because he desperately needs to be. His career depends on it.
And this isn't about that "change of scenery," "clean slate" psychobabbly baloney, either. Allen needed an entirely new system. He needed three of the most talented offensive players around him, making his life easier on a daily basis. He's 37 now, and he doesn't have the body he had at 27. He can't create shots like he used to -- but if shots happen to fall into his lap, he sure can make them.
The Heat retooled this season by adding Allen and Rashard Lewis to a clan of outside-shooting role players that already included Mike Miller, James Jones and Mario Chalmers. Allen is the best of that bunch, by far, and it's already showing.
The Heat newbie dropped 15 points in Beijing this morning, making 4 of 8 three-pointers, as he helped his new team to a 94-80 preseason romp over the Clippers. Not that one exhibition game means anything, of course, but it seems to validate what we already suspected. It makes sense, doesn't it? When defenses collapse into double- and triple-teams on LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, it'll be guys like Allen reaping the benefits. The Heat were already scary good -- this new development will only make them even scarier.
Allen himself is downplaying the ease of his new role, even saying yesterday that the wide-open jump shot is "probably the toughest shot" he has to make. But he's full of it. Either he's sandbagging us so we don't expect too much from him, or he's psyching himself out so he'll practice harder, or something. Don't listen to his words -- examine his play. Allen's job now is easier than it's been in a long, long time. He's going to thrive in South Florida because of it.
In Miami, Allen is still relevant. He knows it -- that's why he turned down two years and $12 million to stay in Boston, making only half that yearly salary in Miami. The Heat know it -- it's why Erik Spoelstra brought the vet off the bench for a team-high 26 minutes in Beijing. And the Celtics know it -- it's why Kevin Garnett isn't calling him, why Rajon Rondo isn't uttering his name. The C's are disrespecting Allen precisely because they respect him. They know he still matters.