Want to start a spirited debate among Celtics fans?
Topic: Tony Allen. Ideal sixth man and shutdown defender, or maddeningly frustrating player perennially overrated by management and coaches?
Grab the popcorn, sit back, and enjoy.
There was plenty of surprise this summer when Allen returned on a two-year contract after the C’s decided not to pick up his option in June. The market on athletic wing players was a little thin after James Posey jumped ship to New Orleans, and C’s general manager Danny Ainge lauded Allen’s improved maturity and his readiness to take his game to the next level with added responsibility and playing time.
The responsibility was considerable — primary backup at both shooting guard and small forward to start the season, as well as both an offensive and defensive spark off the bench. Through 30 games, the results were mixed. At times, Allen’s playmaking helped carry the developing bench, while at others his inconsistency and out-of-control play dragged the unit down. Sometimes he was effective on defense and made you think that he might be able to fill some of the void left by Posey. At other times, his gambling ways raised the question of whether his defensive prowess was more theory than reality.
Now back after missing 11 games with a sprained ankle, Allen is looking to prove to himself and the coaching staff that he is the key reserve the C’s need him to be, and that he can do it night in and night out.
“Yeah, I saw a lot of things,” he said when asked if he had a chance to evaluate his season during his down time. “It was basically just keeping focus on the court. I’ve got to do a better job of that.”
That means harnessing his ability to slash to the basket, and maintaining discipline in the C’s defensive scheme.
“I wasn’t down on his contributions,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “I just want him to play in the right tempo of the game. Sometimes he does too much and that gets him in trouble. I think we need Tony, and we need him to figure out the right way to play.”
He’s gotten off to a good start since coming back from the injury. His 10 points on 5-for-5 shooting, with eight rebounds and three steals, in 23 minutes on Jan. 28 against the Kings might have been his best performance since he tore his ACL two years ago, and he delivered 12 of his 14 points in the first half when the Celtics built a 21-point lead against the Timberwolves last Sunday.
If this is the best of Tony Allen, critics will counter it’s only a matter of time before the other side of Allen rears its hand-wringing head.
“I think he needs to just be satisfied with whatever is going on out there at the time,” Ray Allen said. “Some nights, you might have to score. Some nights, you might not. We’ve all come to that realization in our roles.
“Especially in the second unit, he has such an ability to get to the hole. But he has to use that to make Eddie [House] better. Eddie gets so many more shots off of him with his ability to create. They can work off each other so well. It makes our second unit so much better with TA bringing the ball up being able to get those guys shots.”
Still, Rivers bristles at most questions regarding his scoring potential.
“We need Tony Allen to be a defensive player first,” he has said.
That’s one area where Allen at least claims he and the coach are on the same page.
“That’s how I am going to get on the floor,” he said. “So I have to do that. I know my defense leads to offense for the team. Whatever the coach wants me to do, I’m doing.”
Instant trivia: Which Celtics player has taken more free throws this season, Leon Powe or Ray Allen?
Surprisingly, Powe took 162 foul shots to Allen’s 151 despite playing more than 1,000 fewer minutes through 49 games. Although this speaks incredibly well of the third-year power forward’s ability to create contact, Rivers said it has hurt his efficiency.
“He told me just to make the move, and if you get contact, you get contact, but don’t look for it,” said Powe. “I just like getting to the line. I’ll do everything to get to the line.”
Scott Souza covers the Celtics for OT and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This week's OT cover
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