|Irish Coffee: Ray Allen’s guide to being a Celtic||02.02.12 at 6:55 pm ET|
BOSTON — The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Ever since he first arrived in New England as a University of Connecticut freshman in 1993 (the same year he became a Patriots fan, by the way), Celtics guard Ray Allen‘s work ethic has remained as steadfast as Fort Independence. Even now, after three years of college, 15 NBA seasons and about 3.5 million shots, his role continues to mutate annually — but his approach never will.
“Every year, no matter what team I played on, my role changes,” said the 36-year-old Allen. “You come to training camp, even when I was in Milwaukee, you change things and the league changes a little bit, so you have to figure out how different you’re going to play and you’re going to be played and guarded defensively. I always just said, well, let’s see how everything works and how it goes.”
So far, so good. Before being traded to Boston, Allen had built a Hall of Fame career during 11 seasons on the Bucks and SuperSonics, averaging at least 20 points, four rebounds and three assists for 10 straight years before being dealt for Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak and Jeff Green during the 2007 NBA draft.
Joining forces with fellow superstars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett under head coach Doc Rivers, Allen like the others had to sacrifice numbers for the greater good of the team. In his first season on the Celtics, his attempts dipped by 7.5 field goals per game while his shooting percentages rose across the board.
“When I got here, that was extremely hard, because I wanted to do more,” he said. “I still want to do more, but then I was going off what I’d done my whole career, so I wanted to come here and do the same thing. But in order for this team to be successful I had to take a couple step backwards to fit in a system where it’s going to work, because it wasn’t built around me. That’s just being part of a team and trying to win on your team’s terms and not yours.”
Win they did, capturing the franchise’s 17th NBA championship, painting Allen into his Celtics role. The directive from Rivers is clear: Get open and make shots. Aside from a hiccup during the 2009-10 season — when the C’s made a second NBA Finals run in three seasons — Allen’s shot-making has aged like the art that is his masterful stroke, growing more valuable each year and culminating in this season’s mind-blowing 56.4 3-point percentage.
“The one thing I always learned when I was younger,” said Allen. “if your percentages are at such a great efficient level, then the coaches have to look at it and say, ‘We’ve got to get this guy more touches, because he’s highly effective out there and efficient when he has the ball and when he scores, so we’ve got to get him more touches.’ So, that’s under my control.”
Yet, his touches have diminished even further each season. After averaging 13.5 shots per game during the first year of this Big Three era, Allen is attempting a career low 10.0 field goal attempts per contest. Meanwhile, the NBA’s all-time leader in 3-pointers is on pace to break Kyle Korver‘s 2009-10 single-season record for 3-point percentage (53.6%).
“When you want to be part of a team and help a team be successful, you do whatever you can, but I just always know skill-wise, talent-wise what I can do, what I’ve done, I’ll never put myself in a box and say I can only do one thing,” said Allen. “There are so many things I do, I like to do and I try to get better at, so every situation calls for something different, and you can’t predetermine it.”
This could be Allen’s subtle way of suggesting he’s willing and able to be a larger part of an offense that has struggled for much of the lockout-shortened 2011-12 NBA season without a healthy Rajon Rondo. After all, he’s averaged more than four assists a night five times and more than 15 shots per game in 10 seasons.
It may have come as a surprise to some that Allen recorded eight assists against the Cavaliers on Tuesday or that he followed with a second consecutive five-dime night against the Raptors (both wins) — neither of which feat he’s accomplished in more than a year — but it came as no shock to the man himself.
“My role hasn’t been that on this team,” he said. “When Rondo’s in the lineup, then we’ll set the lineup to where it’s typical for me to do a certain thing. A lot of times I’m sitting behind the 3-point line. My whole career, I’ve done more than just shoot 3’s. That’s just what I’ve gravitated towards and what this offense has allowed me to do. Teams take that away. I know how to get a mid-range shot or get to the basket, but I can’t do it too much to the point where it’s at the mercy of what our offense is doing. I try not to hijack the offense, but just make sure I make my plays. Teams really try to take me out of the offense early, so I just try to find different avenues to be effective.”
Make no mistake: Allen isn’t complaining about his role or his number of touches. He just wants to help the team in any way possible, and in his mind he’s still capable of being the 25 points-per-game scorer he was his final season in Seattle. And who’s to argue with a guy who could very well be the best conditioned athlete in the game?
Considering he’s making better than 50 percent of both his traditional and 3-point field goals as well as 90 percent of his free throws — at least for now eclipsing his 50-40-90 “holy trinity of shooting” that’s escaped him in a single season throughout his career — he’d need even fewer attempts to get there. Not that he’d complain if he didn’t.
The point being: Maybe it’s time to reward Jesus Shuttlesworth for his sacrifice.
(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’s Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach on Twitter.)