Miami Heat's Ray Allen
On their way to securing a second straight title last season, Allen knocked down the biggest shot of the 2013 playoffs. When he delivered on a three from the corner to tie Game 6 of the NBA Finals with 5.2 seconds remaining in regulation, Allen gave his team the opportunity to eliminate the San Antonio Spurs in Game 7.
But while that single moment is ingrained in the memory of NBA fans, it shouldn't understate Allen's overall contributions to the championship run which began long before he played the hero in Game 6.
As Wade continues to work his way through knee injuries, Miami will need that same consistency from Allen on a nightly basis.
In addition to playing extended minutes at the shooting guard spot in support of Wade, Allen will also be asked to lead Miami's second unit as the team's sixth man. Mike Miller and the long-range shot-making that he provided is now gone too, making Allen's ability to stretch defenses even more critical.
These dynamics will require Allen to replicate his production from a season ago in order to maximize Miami's odds of a three-peat.
Ray Allen will be critical while Dwyane Wade rests
While battling knee injuries throughout the 2012-13 campaign, Dwyane Wade appeared in only 69 regular-season games for the Miami Heat. He averaged 34.7 minutes per night in those games before playing 35.5 minutes during the playoffs.
As the chart above highlights, Wade's postseason minutes per game last season represents the lowest average of his career. Wade's most recent regular-season mark is also only better than the 33.2 minutes he played in 2011-12.
In an attempt to stay healthy and productive, Wade, who turns 32 in January, could be logging closer to 30 minutes per game in 2013-14 than he ever has before.
The only other true shooting guard on the Heat's roster behind him, however, is Ray Allen.
In relief of Wade, the Heat at times could employ a non-traditional lineup that potentially includes both Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole in the backcourt together. The best opportunity to win while Wade is resting, though, is to simply increase the 25.8 minutes that Allen averaged last season to somewhere between 28-30.
Allen projects to be Heat's sixth man in 2013-14
Ray Allen closed the 2012-13 regular season as the Miami Heat's fourth-leading scorer. Only LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh averaged more than the 10.9 points Allen scored off the bench.
Despite the potential development of Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole, along with a full season of Chris Andersen and the addition of free agent Greg Oden, it appears likely that Allen will finish as the Heat's fourth-leading scorer again in 2013-14.
Miami also acquired the rights to rookie James Ennis this summer, though he expects to spend the season playing professionally in Australia according to Fox Sports Florida's Chris Tomasson.
As Miami's primary offensive weapon off the bench, Allen will be asked to assume more of a sixth-man role than he did previously.
Besides the 19.9 minutes averaged by Cole a year ago, the only other returning players on the Heat's second unit who were counted on for as many as 18 minutes per night were Udonis Haslem (18.4) and Shane Battier (24.8).
However, Battier and Haslem combined to average less points than Allen did by himself last season, and the Heat did not make any significant moves since to improve that aspect of their bench. This will inevitably leave more of a burden on Allen to produce as Miami's top reserve throughout the year.
Mike Miller's departure places more of an emphasis on Allen's skill set
Mike Miller appeared in 59 games during the regular season, averaging only 4.8 points per night. But despite this lack of overall production, Miller's on-court presence helped spread the floor and open up driving lanes for his teammates.
Miller connected on 41.7 percent of the three-point field goals he attempted during the regular season, before improving that number to 44.4 in the playoffs. As a result, the threat Miller posed on the perimeter forced defenders to respect him.
Due to salary restraints, Miller was waived this summer via the amnesty provision and is now a member of the Memphis Grizzlies. His departure makes Allen's ability to pull defenders away from the basket more critical than ever.
The Heat are at their best when defenses are extended and driving lanes are available for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The player best suited for creating that space is Allen, and there isn't much help off the bench in that department anymore besides him.
Allen is still shooting as effectively as ever from long range
Ray Allen has made more regular-season and playoff three-pointers than any other player in NBA history. Among those field goals is the historic dagger he delivered in Game 6 of the NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs.
Along the way last season, however, Allen also improved on his remarkable career percentage of 40.1-percent shooting from three-point territory.
The 41.9-percent number he posted was good enough to rank Allen 15th in the league overall in terms of three-point efficiency, a category in which he projects to be among the leaders again this season.
While shooting over 40 percent in 2013-14 from behind the arc, Allen will also remain a critical weapon in the Heat's quest to win a third-straight championship.