Well, since it’s cool with him and all, why the heck not?
I have to admit, the idea has grown on me since it was floated out there, sometime amid the Celtics resurgence and Avery Bradley‘s ascent as basketball’s version of a shutdown corner, that Ray Allen should come off the bench once he returns from his ankle injury.
It’s easy to imagine Allen, arguably the greatest shooter in NBA history, checking in and providing instant offense, a smoother, modern-day Vinnie Johnson. I’ve often yowled that he gets lost in the offense too much, that not enough plays are run his way. Perhaps in a designated gunner role, he would rarely be an afterthought.
I didn’t think he’d go for it, though. He’s beyond a creature of habit, and his routine is to prepare to start, something he has done in 1,139 of the 1,143 games he has played in his NBA career. Not that he’s terribly selfish, but he is quite and rightfully proud, and it can’t be easy for any player, particularly a 10-time All-Star, to consider the transition game of coming off the bench. Even with this amazing resurgence, there’s the train of thought that Kevin Garnett will retire rather than play out his NBA days as a role player.
But with the team thriving in his absence — 10 wins, including five in a row, in the 11 games he’s missed this season — and young Avery Bradley providing a fierce defensive element alongside Rajon Rondo, there is a case that it is the right thing to do. And Allen, to his immense credit has said he would do it, telling the Globe, “Whatever we need to do as a team” he’d be willing to do.
So . . . how about it, Doc? Do it tonight, against the Spurs.
Allen, hopefully, will get a higher volume of shots in the off-the-bench role, he’d still see significant minutes, and it cannot hurt to give his 36-year-old legs more rest as the postseason nears.
And let’s admit it: Bradley has seized his opportunity like he rips the ball away from unsuspecting point guards.
There is a lot to like about the 20-year-old second-year guard, not the least of which is that his success, which has come with remarkably accelerated progress lately, has silenced all of the unabashed Danny Ainge bashers who have failed to comprehend how difficult it is to find talent late in the draft, something he, the Spurs’ R.C. Buford, and very few others have consistently done.
Bradley’s defense is dogged and spectacular; it justified his place in the league even when he approached offense like the basketball was a hot potato. I’ve seen his block on Dwyane Wade Sunday maybe a dozen times — I keep running it in slo-mo, Zapruder-style, to see whether “Spaulding” is imprinted in reverse across Wade’s forehead — and while I haven’t solved that, this much I can confirm: Watching that clip is never going to get old.
Offensively, he’s still raw as a playmaker. While his defense might serve as a reminder that Rondo is a bit overrated on the ball, Bradley’s offense stands as confirmation of Rondo’s genius in orchestrating the offense when he’s fully engaged.
But Bradley moves tirelessly when he doesn’t have the ball (perhaps the one trait he has in common with Allen), finishes gracefully and creatively near the hoop, and when he makes a couple of those bunnies in a row, his confidence soars. Not coincidentally, his jump shot starts falling more often. And he’s already pretty accurate from mid-range.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Bradley is his desire to learn. We got a glimpse of it during NBA TV’s “The Association: Boston Celtics” program last year, when Rondo seemed to take the rookie under his wing, taking him to dinner on the road and giving him advice.
As surprising as it was to watch Rondo, all of 24 at the time, playing the role of sage veteran, it was a encouraging sign regarding both mentor and understudy, and perhaps it partially explains why they play so well together despite an uncommon array of skills between them.
And then there was this, from Gary Washburn’s story in the Globe Monday:
Kevin Garnett has offered assistance to younger Celtics over the years, only to be rebuffed and soured by their cockiness. Bradley soaks in all information, forming friendships with Rondo, Dooling, and Marquis Daniels.
Allen isn’t mentioned there, but it’s not a huge leap to conclude that part of the reason he’d be willing to cede his spot in the starting five, even if it’s just temporary, is because he respects the way Bradley has gone about his business.
There’s nary a player in the league who is more dedicated and by-the-book than Allen. Bradley’s game has few similarities to Allen’s, which is why they both can be tremendous assets going forward in this suddenly intriguing season. But his approach and determination, particularly for such a young player, sure appears to be similar, and Allen’s appreciation of that might just evident in his willingness to alter his own role.
If so, that’s the greatest compliment the kid has received yet.