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Ageless Ray Allen Adapts to Stay Clutch

MIAMI, FL - April 23: Ray Allen #34 of the Miami Heat shoots the ball against the Charlotte Bobcats during Game Two of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA playoffs at the American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida on April 23, 2014. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice: Copyright NBAE 2014 (Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images)
Bleacher Report
Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 10, 2017

Ray Allen is going to hit another massive, series-altering shot before the Miami Heat conclude their current playoff run, and when he does, be sure to drink it in.

Because we can't be sure how many more of those clutch buckets there'll be.

 

Clutch from the Start

19 Feb 1996: Guard Ray Allen #34 of the Connecticut Huskies pauses on the court during a break in the action against the Georgetown Hoyas in this Big East match-up at the USAir Arena in Washington, D.C. Georgetown defeated UConn 77-65.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

You might not suspect Allen's late-game baskets are an endangered species, especially not when you consider the fact that he hit a cool 40 percent of his three-point attempts in "close and late" (defined here as coming in the final minute of a game in which the score is separated by five or fewer points) situations this past season, per NBA.com.

In 2012-13, that figure was 50 percent. In 2011-12, Allen drilled 66.7 percent of such attempts.

You get the idea.

Though he's had some statistical ups and downs in the clutch department, Allen has shown a knack for burying critical shots when his team needed them most. Maybe that's because he got an early start at the trade:

Wherever he's gone—Milwaukee, Seattle, Boston—Allen has been in the business of big shots. Here's a glimpse of his first seven postseason game-winners:

Given his history, it would have been understandable if Allen had decided to hang it up last year. After all, what better way for a late-game assassin to go out than on a championship victory that his critical triple in Game 6 helped facilitate?

Sure, the Heat took care of business against the San Antonio Spurs in Game 7. But they wouldn't have had the opportunity if not for Allen's corner dagger in Game 6.

But Allen came back this season—partly to chase another title and partly (probably) because he knew he had a few back-breakers left in him.

 

Changing Game

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 18: Ray Allen #34 of the Miami Heat takes a shot against the Indiana Pacers during Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on May 18, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. NOTE TO USER:
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Allen is old by NBA standards, though. And even if he can continue to hit big shots, you've got to wonder how much longer he'll be able to play as the rest of his game slips. He's accepted his role as a specialist with the Heat, but maybe he won't want to continue his NBA career as his game becomes even more limited.

We've already seen the way his defensive shortcomings make it difficult for Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra to use him when the opposition features a capable scoring wing. That isn't going to change as Allen continues to age.

With his 39th birthday coming in July, Allen will reach a historical crossroads in his career. According to Basketball-Reference.com, there's never been a guard aged 39 or older who hit at least 40 percent of his triples in a season. Six guys pulled off the trick at age 38:

The Rarity of Aging Shooters
PlayerAgeSeason3FG%
John Stockton382000-01.462
Steve Nash382012-13.438
Dale Ellis381998-99.433
Terry Porter382001-02.415
Reggie Miller382003-04.401
Basketball-Reference.com

Allen's career average is precisely 40 percent.

You can use Derek Fisher's 2013-14 campaign as a hopeful sign if you want. He hit 38.4 percent of his long-range attempts at age 39 this year, but he's not exactly a lofty comparison Allen should aspire to match.

There's something else to consider when projecting Allen's future trajectory, though. He has an advantage over all of the other aging shooters to whom we've compared him. None of those guys got to play with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, a pair of teammates who tend to create pretty good looks for the marksmen on their teams.

That's a unique edge that should give Allen the chance to buck the aging trend—assuming the Heat stick together for another year or two.

Thanks to constant preparation, countless reps and, interestingly, a heavy dose of motivation derived from failure, Allen seems like a guy who'll always relish high-pressure situations.

During the 2012-13 NBA Finals, Allen talked about what drives him with CBS Sports' Zach Harper.

"As much as I think about people in my career can talk about all the shots that I hit to win games, I don't remember those," Allen said. "As much as people talk about me celebrating, I remember the ones that I didn't make. That's what keeps me in the gym."

Allen's work ethic isn't going anywhere, and neither is his willingness to fire away in the most critical moments. So whatever the next phase of his career is (if there is one—Allen is an unrestricted free agent this summer and could definitely walk away if he wins another ring), he'll be the same icy sniper he's always been.

We also know Allen has always recognized his own limitations. He's evolved from being a guy who scored in lots of different ways early in his career to one that specialized as a shooter in his later years. As Allen's athleticism disappeared, he retreated more and more frequently to his beloved three-point arc.

Two statistics are illustrative of his evolution.

First, of Allen's 202 career dunks in the regular season, just 56 have come in the past eight seasons. That's an average of seven jams per year. Over the first six campaigns, Allen averaged about 24 dunks per season.

The springs have disappeared, which tends to happen when a player passes 30.

The second telling stat has to do with Allen's triple rate. The past three seasons of his career have been his most one-dimensional. At no point before the 2011-12 season had Allen ever taken more than 47 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. He passed that mark in 2011-12 and has never looked back.

In 2012-13, 51.0 percent of Allen's shots were threes. This past year, 56.9 percent came from beyond the three-point stripe.

Clearly, Allen's overall game is evolving by necessity. And you get the sense he's clinging to life as an NBA player on the strength of his long-distance stroke and his willingness to take the game's biggest shots.

 

Always Ready

BROOKLYN, NY - MAY 12: Ray Allen #34 of the Miami Heat shoots against the Brooklyn Nets in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs on May 12, 2014 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledge
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

That willingness won't ever change—no matter how old Allen gets or how much athleticism he loses.

For everything that has changed about Ray Allen, he's always had that in him. He'll always be prepared. Always willing to shoot.

And even as age and physical limitation creeps in, he'll always be a guy looking for his next shot.

Per Harper:

Ultimately for Allen, the past will never be as important as either the present or the future, when he's thinking about the next big shot that he has to take. The past is simply used to put in the work in the lab, while the moments ahead of him are a blank slate ready to be filled with his next successful attempt.

If Allen won't focus on the past, maybe we should start appreciating it for him. And when he does something special in the present—like drill one from the corner to put the Heat ahead—take an extra second or two to treasure it.

Even though Allen is equipped with the mindset and ideal teammates to keep burying big shots for years to come, his run won't go on forever.

 

Unless otherwise indicated, all stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.

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