This time last year I had very little hope for Tony Allen. Allen had showed very little in his first two seasons. Going into his third NBA season, I saw Allen as an athletic swing man who couldn’t shoot and made horrible decisions. Out of all the Celtics’ young players at the time, I put him above only Bassy Telfair in terms of potential. That isn’t much of a complement. If Brian Scalabrine was in his early twenties, I would have put him ahead of Telfair too. On top of his on court problems, Allen faced possible jail time for aggravated battery over an altercation in a Chicago nightclub. In short, I didn’t see much hope for Tony.
The first month of last season was much of the same. Tony Allen looked completely lost. It was obvious that Doc and Danny believed in Allen and wanted him to be a key part of the rotation. Unfortunately, he just wasn’t helping the team. Coming off the bench, Allen averaged 4.4 points a game with 0.5 assists. Tony had a few good defensive games but overall he stunk.
Then December came and suddenly everything clicked for Tony. It would be easy to point to Paul Pierce’s injury in late December, as the turning point in Allen’s season, but it actually came a few games earlier. During the Celtics 5 game winning streak in December (Yes, they won 5 games in a row at one point), Allen miraculously started to play up to his potential. In fact 2 games prior to Pierce’s injury Allen dropped 30 points on Denver while playing the entire 48 minutes.
When Pierce went down a couple nights later against the Warriors, Allen took advantage of the extra minutes and continued to raise his game. In the ten games after the Pierce injury, Allen averaged about 20 points with 6-7 rebounds. Skeptics will point to the team’s 2-8 record during the ten game span, but those of us who watched the games noticed a difference in Allen. On offense he was hitting his jumpers and taking it strong to the hole. On defense he was shutting his man down. He did make more than his share of turnovers and bad decisions, but overall he played great basketball. I went from hating Tony Allen to respecting his all-around game. I don’t think it is a coincidence that after he went down with his devastating knee injury, the Celtics completely collapsed. The team lost 16 games in a row after Allen’s injury.
Now Tony Allen enters his fourth season as the 6th man on a championship contender. Allen’s return will be crucial to the Celtics advancing far in the playoffs. If Allen can return to form, he will take pressure of both Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, while giving Rondo a second or third option (along with KG) when he runs the floor. With Rondo pushing the ball and KG on the other wing, Allen should get 4-5 easy baskets a game. Along with James Posey, Allen also gives the Celtics two great defenders off the bench. Tony Allen along with Posey, Glen Davis and even Scalabrine could turn the Celtics bench from an apparent weakness into a strength.
It’s possible that the month of good basketball was a fluke. It’s possible that Allen will never regain his form after the knee surgery. I think it’s more likely that Tony Allen comes on slowly and develops into one of the better 6th men in the league.
I’d like to thank my friend Nevin for the story idea, who thought I could get a blog entry out of Tony Allen.