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The Truth About "Good Tony"

Tony Allen: Reformed Man Or Same Old Player?
Tony Allen: Reformed Man Or Same Old Player?

There has been a ton of talk this season about how Tony Allen has looked better this season, that he's had a career makeover, etc., etc.  The question is, is their any validity to that?

Below are Tony's career averages, and his "Per 36" career stats:

(Click here for larger image.)

Certainly, it's fair to say that in a lot of areas (FG%, rebounding, turnovers) there has been some minimal improvement.  However, statistically, Tony basically seems to have been the same player this year that he's always been, at least within normal fluctuations. 

Tony still possesses a lot of the flaws he's always had.  He was a terrible jump shooter (.214 eFG% on jump shots), and he still fouled and turned the ball over more than most players.  He still had an assist-to-turnover ratio of approximately 1:1, and the team was actually outscored while Tony was on the court this year.

Why, then, do so many Celtics fans think Tony has turned a corner?  Are the Tony fans that have been telling us that he's always been as good as he has shown this year been correct?

I think there are a number of reasons for the average fan's belief that Tony has been better this year, even as he's statistically within career norms:

1) Tony really has played better this year. 

This is probably the most obvious one, but Tony has decreased some of his worst traits.  Only 33% of his shots this year have been jumpers (as opposed to 39% last year, and 50% and 45% the two previous years).  Despite that, Tony has decreased his turnovers, and has improved his play elsewhere, particularly in rebounding.  There hasn't necessarily been huge improvement, but there have been some noticeable moves in the right direction.

2) Tony has cut down on his most frustrating plays. 

As noted above, Tony is driving to the basket more this year.  Despite that, Tony only has nine offensive fouls this entire season, as compared to 19 last season in fewer games.  That shows some real growth on his part. 

Similarly, Tony hasn't been turning the ball over  much in crunch time.  This season, Tony only has two turnovers in "clutch" situations, defined as situations in the last five minutes of a game (or overtime) where the game is within five points.  At the same time, Tony scored more in crunch situations than in the past. 

Over the years, it's the "throw your hands in the air and groan" plays of Tony that have stuck fans, whether it be a stupid offensive foul, or dribbling the ball off of his foot, or biting on a stupid up-fake in crunch time.  This year, there are far fewer of those defining plays.

3) Fans have plenty of scapegoats this season.

Listen, every fan base usually has players it tends to bash, and Tony was an easy target with the Celts.  In the past, he turned the ball over way too much, he fouled a lot, he made bonehead plays, and off the court, he brought a lot of negative attention to himself. 

This season, there are other players who have played worse, or who have at least played farther beneath expectations.  First and foremost on that list, of course, is Rasheed, who almost instantly earned the fans' scorn with his lazy play and mediocre performance.  Additionally, the entire team has been a disappointment, leaving plenty of avenues for criticism.  Because of that, Tony's role as a scapegoat has been largely reduced.  Whatever the problems with the team were this season, they weren't related to Tony Allen.

4) Fans respect the way Tony has played.

Related to the above, Tony has endeared many fans with his style of play.  When this team has looked old and lethargic, Tony has looked athletic and energetic.  He has almost uniformly hustled when he's been in the game, and on nights when the team has chucked lazy shots from the perimeter, he hasn't been scared to drive the ball.

In conclusion, then, it seems that the idea of "Good Tony" is partially grounded in reality, despite what the stats might suggest.  However, a large part of the "Good Tony" phenomenon is also fueled by fan perception, both positive and negative.