It's strange to think of Ray Allen as a role player: The 37-year-old shooting guard is a sure-fire Hall of Famer who helped lead the Boston Celtics to the 2008 NBA title. But when Allen decided to take his talents to Miami last July, he knew that he would play a supporting role behind Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
The Heat's now infamous trio has already proven that they can carry most of the load on their own throughout the course of a grueling season. But on those rare off-nights when one (or more) of them can't seem to get it going, one of the best understudies in the NBA is ready to go at a moment's notice.
"I've always had the vision that it would it be great if he was on my team," said James in an interview with Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today back in December. "Just that threat, the guy who spaces the floor and can make clutch shots no matter what part of the game, no matter what the situation is."
Those who say that Allen is having a disappointing campaign aren't paying close enough attention to the numbers. The 16-year veteran is fourth on the team in scoring with 10.7 points per game, and his per-36 minute averages (15.0 points, 3.9 rebounds) are pretty good for someone who has more than 1,300 career games to his credit.
The boxscore doesn't tell the whole story, however: On the court, Allen has something of a symbiotic relationship with the Heat triumvirate. The attention focused on Wade, James and Bosh often leads to better looks for Allen, and his ability to knock down anything from 25 feet and in gives the others more room to operate in the half-court set.
It's not a coincidence that Miami is shooting a league-best 43.9 percent from 16 to 23 feet this season. And as breathtaking as the Heat were on offense during their championship run, they're even better with Allen in the fold. Miami's Offensive Rating year-over-year has increased from 106.6 to 112.6, and the team is shooting nearly 50 percent from the field as a unit.
According to Synergy Sports, Allen is averaging an impressive 1.04 points per possession this season (31st in the NBA). Since the All-Star break, Allen has knocked down more than 44 percent of his three-point attempts and is a plus-140 over the Heat's past 23 games.
Figures such as these often go overlooked when one plays in the shadow of men named James, Wade and Bosh. But not only do Allen's coaches and teammates appreciate what he brings to the team, they know that he'll be even better once the postseason begins in earnest.
A right ankle injury severely hampered the 37-year-old shooting guard in last season's playoffs, and Allen shot just 39.5 percent from the field and 30.4 percent from beyond the arc. But even at less than 100 percent, Allen posted the lowest postseason Defensive Rating of his career (102) and still averaged 4.1 rebounds per game despite limited mobility.
The last time a healthy Allen entered the playoffs (2011), he averaged 18.9 points per game and shot a blistering 57.1 percent from three-point range. He won't get nearly enough touches to approach those numbers, but as long as Allen knocks down the open jump shot more often than not, the Heat will have little difficulty rolling through the postseason.
Allen would have been rewarded handsomely had he decided to stay with the Boston Celtics, but he instead chose to join the Heat for (at least) one more title run. In the process, Miami didn't just land one of the biggest bargains in free agency, but they also acquired a playoff-tested veteran who will pay huge dividends once the NBA's second season gets underway.