Ray Allen seems to like the shooting background in Miami.
There's no shaking that smile.
Other than some frustration with South Florida's traffic snafus, Ray Allen has taken to his new home quite nicely since signing a one-year deal plus a player option in July.
That comfort and contentment was evident again after Monday night's 124-99 rout of the Suns.
Told that he had produced the night's stat line—15 points, six rebounds, six assists—only once in his five seasons in Boston, Allen replied to reporters:
"I'm glad I'm in Florida."
The Heat's glad to have him, as he's averaging 15.5 points on 57.6 percent shooting in an average of 28.5 minutes through his first four games. Further, he's gotten a chance to show off more of his floor game than he did last season with the Celtics.
Nor is there any cause to expect his strong play to abate. He has a chance to become the first Heat player in 25 years to challenge for the Sixth Man of the Year award.
(Note: All quotes in this piece are from individual or group interviews that the author participated in.)
He says he's still sore, but he hasn't shown it.
As recently as just before the season, Ray Allen spoke of soreness.
His right ankle had bothered him throughout the 2011-12 season and then the postseason, causing him to miss time, and then miss shots, as he struggled to get his balance. Then he had surgery for the removal of bone spurs and stabilization.
But if it's still an issue, he hasn't shown it.
Allen continues to move off the ball, as he did in Boston, but more impressively, he's shown a willingness to pass on the jumper and drive to the hoop, sometimes to get off a floater, sometimes to make a play for someone else. And while he is not an elite defender, and still needs to adjust fully to the Heat system, he hasn't seemed to have trouble sliding his feet.
Could the issue flare up?
Sure, he's 37, with plenty of wear on his wheels.
But so far, he looks strong.
So far, Ray Allen and Erik Spoelstra appear on the same page.
It wasn't just the Italian food at a popular downtown Miami eatery that convinced Ray Allen to join the Heat after he had become disenchanted with his situation in Boston.
It was the straight talk he had with Erik Spoelstra at that meal, and in the hours before and after, about how his usage might differ with the Heat.
Spoelstra presented the possibility of being a "player," more than simply a "shooter," even if the Heat would certainly look to exploit Allen's unparalleled acumen from behind the arc. Allen especially appreciated Spoelstra's concept of "position-less" play, with everyone expected to seamlessly fill several roles in the offense.
"That was one of the biggest factors in me coming here," Allen said.
Mostly, that was because of this:
"This is the way I played in Seattle and in Milwaukee.”
In those places, he played more with the ball in his hands than he did in Boston, where Rajon Rondo understandably dominated the ball-handling duties.
Now that Allen feels more engaged, it is showing in his early performance.
There has been no better sign than his six assists Monday.
The NBA's best two-guard combo benefits both.
The Heat has offered Allen more opportunity. Yet, in one key way, burdened him with less responsibility.
Miami won a championship without him, and has plenty of bench options if he doesn't prosper—notably Mike Miller, who is in much better physical condition than last season and still has rarely gotten on the floor.
And, of course, it has Dwyane Wade, who welcomed Allen's addition because he wants to play closer to 30 than 40 minutes, but can still carry much of the offensive load from the perimeter.
When they are on the court together, as they often have been, including the entire fourth quarter of Saturday's win against Denver, they can make the work easier for each other.
Already, they're starting to show some chemistry, as Allen adjusts to being the beneficiary of elements of Wade's game (such as late passes after penetration) that he used to try to combat as a defender.
But if Allen is dealing with any nagging injuries, he can also rest, and just watch Wade work, saving himself for the stages of the season that really matter.
LeBron James helped make Ray Allen's game-winner happen.
Poor Corey Brewer.
Saturday night, with 6.7 seconds left, the Nuggets' swingman had to make a choice.
Help on LeBron James or stay with Ray Allen.
"There's no decision there," Shane Battier said. "I think, effectively, Ray Allen in the corner, has a higher efficiency than LeBron at the rim."
It does, especially from the left corner, where—according to Court Vision analytics—Allen shot 57.1 percent last season, which is the equivalent (in terms of points produced) to shooting 85.6 percent from two-point range.
Still, defenders will be forced to make those choices all season.
James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all demand double-teams at times. Historically, defenders have not left Allen alone, even when he was playing with Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett. But, when both are healthy, James and Wade are arguably two of the top-five drivers and finishers in the sport, which makes it understandable for opponents to forget and flinch.
And give Allen an extra inch.
"No can get it off quicker than Ray," Wade said.
He's had no trouble so far.
Allen's had plenty of cause to point to teammates after pinpoint passes.
The Heat has never played like this in the Pat Riley era.
While he's known for Showtime, Riley started his Heat tenure in 1995 by recreating the rugged style he had espoused in New York. And the Heat pretty much followed that form in the years that followed.
Erik Spoelstra has now created a new Heat identity, one in which Miami doesn't want to—in his words— "try to outscore teams," but it certainly can. And it can, in part, because the ball and body movement between the so-called Big Three is light years ahead of where it was two seasons ago.
Allen has already fit right into that.
"I love it," Allen said after Monday's win against Phoenix. "It's a responsibility for all of us when we're out on the floor. We have some great triggers out there, guys that are creating action, and the defense has to react. And we're in position to either knock down a shot or drive it and make a play for the next guy.
"Everybody builds into that belief or that philosophy. I'm the recipient a lot."
He is, often in that left corner, and often, thus far, not tightly guarded.
"We're getting a lot of great looks," Allen said. "I still believe, shooting the ball-wise, that we're not where we want to be. We can continue to get better."
Which should get the rest of the NBA concerned.
The old pro is endearing himself with hustle.
When Heat fans haven't seen Ray Allen in the air, releasing a shot with perfect rotation, they have seen him on the floor.
In the win against the Nuggets, he twice made steals that led to late, critical Dwyane Wade transition baskets, once winning a multi-player scramble.
So far, he has shown a strong desire to prove his worth to teammates who wanted him, but who had formed their own bonds during the championship run, with 12 of 15 returning for the title defense.
Allen has always been maniacal about his preparation. That's what made him the NBA's all-time three-point shooter. But now he's also got a chip on his shoulder, after feeling as if he was disrespected by Boston—the attempts to trade him, the move to the bench, the greater attention paid in free agency to Kevin Garnett.
All of this has shown in his effort so far, and there's no reason to believe that will taper, with the way the Heat has involved him early.
"It's a responsibility that I hold close to me," Allen said. "Because it's not like I get the ball and I'm a ball-stopper. I'm out there to extend the play, being able to make plays for your teammates. So many guys, they run out at me and try to get me off (the three-point line), and I'll go right by you, and then make a quick pass and get somebody else an easy shot.
"So the opportunity for me to do that here, I'm ecstatic about it."
The Heat's ecstatic about what he's doing.