Kevin Pelton, SUPERSONICS.COM
| October 24, 2005
This is the first installment of SUPERSONICS.COM's position-by-position previews of the 2005-06 season. Check back Wednesday for a look at small forward.
Let's play the Pyramid:
Metronomes. Old Faithful. Ray Allen.
"That was probably the toughest thing I've ever done in this league. All those things I never said, but they worked inside my head."
Things that are consistent? Absolutely. Over the last six seasons, Allen has scored no fewer than 21.8 points per game and no more than 23.9 (last year's career high). He's averaged at least 4.4 rebounds and no more than 5.2. He's handed out at least 3.7 assists and no more than 4.8. There have been better and worse years for Allen, naturally - his shooting percentage has tended to fluctuate much more than his per-game stats - but he has firmly established his niche as one of the NBA's top shooting guards, making five All-Star appearances in that six-year span.
By conventional wisdom, Allen had a career year last season while playing for a new contract. He received All-NBA Second Team honors for the first time in his career and finished tied for ninth in MVP voting. However, most of his statistics were virtually unchanged from the previous season, with the exception of Allen turning the ball over slightly less and shooting it more often - changes which can be traced to his pairing in the starting lineup with a more traditional point guard in Luke Ridnour than converted shooting guard Brent Barry.
Over the off-season, Allen's consistency earned him a new, long-term deal to stay in Seattle. If anything, the new deal may be beneficial for Allen's performance. After re-signing, Allen admitted that the weight of his impending free agency occasionally became burdensome for him during the 2004-05 season, largely because the media continued to hound him about it.
"That was probably the toughest thing I've ever done in this league," said Allen this summer. "Having to answer question after question about my future, where it might be; having a bad game and you don't know what's going to happen. Are you still in good graces? All those things I never said, but they worked inside my head."
While an increased role and more development from Ridnour this season should hold down Allen's assists, it also should help Allen continue to rank amongst the NBA's top ten scorers. The two Sonics guards continue to improve their on-court chemistry, setting Allen up for higher-percentage looks at the basket.
"I think if my point guard is a good point guard, borderline great, my shots become easier and easier as the season progresses," Allen said recently.
One factor working against Allen's statistics this season will be new Coach Bob Weiss' desire to cut the minutes of his star player. That's easy for Weiss to say in October and more difficult to put into practice during the second half of a tight regular-season game, but last year Allen played 39.3 minutes per game, his highest average since his second NBA season and putting him in the NBA's top ten.
On the other hand, the faster-paced tempo Weiss wants the Sonics to play at this season could help Allen increase his scoring average. In transition, Allen's ability to spot up for 3-pointers on the wings or finish in the paint makes him one of the NBA's most dangerous players.
Allen has had a typically outstanding preseason, averaging 18.8 points per game - 29.7 per 40 minutes - on 50% shooting. Demonstrating his consistency, Allen has scored double-figures in all six preseason games, 20+ in three of the last four and exactly 20 in the Sonics last three games.
Last season, Allen's backup - for the limited stretches he was off the floor - was point guard Antonio Daniels
, playing alongside Ridnour. The Sonics have the option of using the same set-up this year with Ronald "Flip" Murray
, who has had his greatest success for the Sonics when playing shooting guard. Last year, Murray stepped in for Allen to score 23 points on 8-for-14 shooting in a win at Sacramento when Allen was ill and had 25 points when Allen went down with a sprained ankle in the first quarter against the L.A. Lakers.
More memorably, Murray scored 20+ points in 10 of the Sonics first 12 games in 2003-04, when Allen was sidelined by ankle surgery. Should Allen be sidelined at any point this season, Murray would likely step in at shooting guard.
Coach Weiss does have other options at the position, however. Swingman Damien Wilkins
is capable of playing shooting guard for stretches, which he did against the Los Angeles Clippers in last Wednesday's preseason game.
"I learned that Damien can come in and play the two," Weiss said after the game. "He gave us a great effort in the second half, gave us a lot of energy defensively."
The 6-6 Wilkins gives the Sonics a different look at shooting guard and is the team's best perimeter defender.
However, his ballhandling is a weakness at the position.
Another option could be training-camp invitee Alex Scales. Scales, who is battling for a spot on the roster, would have to make the team first, but he has shown explosive ability during training camp and the preseason. Scales has averaged 5.7 points, 1.3 rebounds and 1.2 assists, and 17.6 points per 40 minutes.