For Ray Allen, steady shooting comes from early workouts
MIAMI — Ray Allen has displayed plenty of energy on the court this season. But he’s done nothing for the energy crisis.
Since his second NBA season of 1997-98, Allen has arrived at arenas about 3 ½ hours before games. He then heads out for a 20-minute shooting session, when he often is the only player on the court.
For home games, the Miami Heat guard drives to AmericanAirlines Arena. On the road, he used to take taxis to the arena since team bus trips to the game didn’t arrive until much later.
That’s how it was on the road for the Heat the first part of this season after Allen had signed with the team last summer as a free agent. Then, to help out Allen and some teammates who would join him for workouts, the Heat figured it was time for a change.
“We had Ray going over in the cab and we had two buses (trips made by the team bus at staggered times), and then other guys started to go with him,’’ Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “LeBron (James) went a few times. Mike Miller, J.J. (James Jones), Bird (Chris “Birdman’’ Andersen).
“Then we said, ‘Wait a minute. If we have millions of dollars going in these cabs, this organization needs to create a new bus.’ For 18 years (that Spoelstra has been with the organization), we had two buses. And now because of Ray Allen, we have three buses. It’s called the early shooters bus.’’
Allen is joined on the bus by a pair of Heat staffers who assist with his shooting drills and members of the training staff. Allen sometimes is the only player on the bus, and he never takes a game off.
“I don’t help that none whatsoever,’’ Allen quipped about the team bus making an extra trip not exactly aiding the energy crisis.
Before home games, though, Allen at least doesn’t add to traffic jams since he arrives prior to rush hour. He’s almost always the only Heat player shooting very early before home games.
One might think Allen is working even more on his shot now due to a prolonged slump. Over his past nine playoff games, the most prolific 3-point marksman in NBA regular season and playoff history is shooting just 18 of 61 (29.5 percent), including 9 of 35 on 3-pointers (26.7 percent). Allen has a career 40.1 percentage from long range.
But Allen, 37, insists he hasn’t changed a thing. Observations of a workout last month prior to his slump and at last Thursday’s Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Indiana show that indeed to be the case.
“You’re working toward long-term success,’’ Allen, whose Heat face the Pacers on Monday night at AmericanAirlines in Game 7, said of not altering his routine whether he’s been shooting well or poorly. “If you’re working hard, the averages are going to average out. But I don’t get too excited about shots I make because I’m supposed make them. I’m more perplexed when I don’t make it. Shooting I won’t say is second nature anymore; it’s first nature.’’
When Allen goes through one of his workouts, it’s as well choreographed as a long-running Broadway play. His rebounding partners are often Heat player development coach Octavio De La Grana and video intern Eric Glass.
Allen begins each workout by launching a 40-footer from the left side behind the Heat bench. He said he’s made about two or three out of his last eight or nine.
Allen then goes through a routine in which he shoots free throws, mid-range shots and 3-pointers from the same spots around the arc that are used for the long-distance shootout during All-Star Weekend. He shoots 3-pointers when catching the ball in transition. He runs off imaginary screens.
“I try to keep it precise and effective and get the shots that I need,’’ said Allen, a 17-year veteran. “I try to get a good sweat. I shoot using different footwork and different angles.’’
It all started in Allen’s second season of 1997-98, when he was developing into a star with Milwaukee. He heeded the advice of two veteran guards.
“My first year, I was trying to figure it out but I didn’t know exactly what to do,’’ Allen said of a routine. “But then I had Michael Curry and Elliot Perry as my guys, and they got me off on the right foot. We all started to go over (to the arena) well before anybody got on the floor and get shots up. You didn’t have droves of guys coming on the floor when we were trying to get shots up.’’
Curry has been out of the NBA since 2005 and Perry since 2002. But Allen is still firing away regularly well before games.
“Our nickname for him is ‘Everyday Ray,’ ’’ Spoelstra said. “It’s every day. It’s not every other day. It’s not some days. It’s every single day Ray. His work ethic and his discipline are in the top percentage in this league. Ninety-nine percent of the players do not have that type of consistent work ethic.’’
Spoelstra figured there might actually be a day, though, when Allen wasn’t on the court early. He was slated to miss an April 5 game at Charlotte, one of just three regular-season games Allen sat out.
“He had sprained his ankle and we sat him out the Charlotte game,’’ Spoelstra said. “I was curious. This is probably one that he’s going to take the third bus (to the arena). He can’t shoot on the ankle.
“But, sure enough, he took the shooters’ early bus. I get over there and he’s already finished his routine. I’m like, ‘What are you doing. You’re not playing tonight.’ He had a sprained ankle but he still wanted to get up free throws.’’
One disadvantage Allen had on a bad ankle was being less agile when it came to dodging dance-team members practicing for the game. When Allen shoots, it’s so early that just about anything might be happening on the court besides basketball.
At recent home games, he’s had to elude not only the Heat Dancers but also members of the team’s Golden Oldies. He’s had to deal with blaring music and sound checks.
On the road, with teams not used to players showing up so early, it really can be an adventure. The lights might be low. It could be hard to find balls. Halftime acts might be practicing.
And there was what happened a few years ago in the postseason when Allen was with Boston and the Celtics played at Cleveland.
“I’ve dodged a lot of cheerleaders in my career,’’ Allen said. “I’ve had people seemingly doing it on purpose in the playoffs. They know I’m going to be out there. They know my routine and just try to distract me. Cleveland was one spot (where it happened). They (cheerleaders) were trying to sabotage me. It was pretty funny. But it actually kind of helped me because it helped me navigate through it and focus more.’’
Jones said when he shot with Allen before a game this season in Chicago there were cheerleaders on the floor as well as the “halftime show of guys jumping up and down on a trampoline.’’ Jones said it was “a circus out there,’’ but that Allen was undaunted.
“That’s a key to his success, being able to consistency have a window to hone his craft,’’ Jones said of Allen’s workouts.
It’s all led to Allen becoming the NBA’s leading 3-point shooter with 2,857 made in the regular season. In Game 3 of a first-round series sweep over Milwaukee, Allen broke Reggie Miller’s playoff record of 320 made 3-pointers. He’s now up to 337.
The series against the Bucks was a banner one for Allen. In the four games, he averaged 16.5 points while making 13 of 28 3-pointers for 46.4 percent, numbers well above his regular-season average of 10.9 and 3-point percentage of 41.9.
But after scoring 21 points in Game 2 of an East semifinal against Chicago, Allen’s game has fallen off considerably. In the nine games since, he’s averaged just 6.0 points with a high of 11.
“I figure one game I took shots at the shot-clock (buzzer),’’ Allen said when asked to pinpoint a reason for his slump. “If you watch a lot of my shots, I feel like I’m not rushing them but they’re more hurried than I would like. That’s just the flow of the game. I got to find myself getting in a better rhythm.’’
In the meantime, Spoelstra has been sticking with Allen. Asked Sunday about Allen’s shooting troubles heading into Monday’s huge game, Spoelstra said simply, “He’ll be there.’’
Where Allen also will be Monday is on the court at AmericanAirlines Arena, honing his craft more than three hours before tipoff.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
or on Twitter @christomasson.