Looking back on Ray Allen as a Buck

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In the annals of Milwaukee Bucks’ basketball, few names stand out to those outside the state of Wisconsin, sans Giannis Antetokounmpo, Oscar Robertson, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Underrated hallmarks, with Marques Johnson, Sidney Moncrief, and Jack Sikma among them, reside in the bosom of Bucks’ enthusiasts, held tightly. Besides the Greek Freak, all of those players played at least half of their respective careers under the auspices of the 414 area code, and either retired or hatched wearing forest green. Then, there’s the curious case of Ray Allen, who helped resuscitate a then-tumbling team into a fresh millennium.

A Connecticut Huskie for three seasons, Allen was a highly touted, quick-releasing marksman with a feathery pair of feet in the full-court, ahead of the 1996 NBA draft. After Allen Iverson, and before Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, Allen was selected fifth overall as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves. But, before Ray-Ray could play with Kevin Garnett in Minneapolis, Milwaukee stepped in and dealt its fourth overall pick, Stephon Marbury, to their neighboring state, for Allen and big man Andrew Lang.

For his rookie campaign, Allen was accompanied by center Vin Baker and forward Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson, both of whom were pouring in over 20-points per game. Despite a slight dip in attendance from a year prior, the team won eight more games. In September of the 1997 season, Baker was shipped to the Seattle Supersonics, who were sending a 27-year-old Shawn Kemp to Cleveland, and Milwaukee secured a shifty All-Star, in dime-dishing point guard, Terrell Brandon, from Cleveland.

It seemed as if the Bucks finally had established a young nucleus in Allen, Brandon and Robinson, but the newfound point guard had his first season in Milwaukee plagued by injury. Lasting a little less than two subpar years (the first of which was a lockout year) with the Bucks, Brandon, who the team feared would leave via free agency, was featured in another blockbuster deal. This new mass-transaction was headlined by Stephon Marbury, who was denied a contract extension by Minnesota, and his going to the New Jersey Nets. Brandon went to Minnesota, and the Bucks received Sam Cassell, who was a shaky-shooting point guard approaching his 30s. However, it didn’t take long for coach George Karl and general manager Ernie Grunfeld to realize that they had formed an early incarnation of what has since become the Association’s selling point, a Big Three.

Across a few movie appearances, including a lead in the legendary Spike Lee-directed He Got Game (1998), and a growing celebrity outside of basketball, Allen grew a more-outgoing image, with many adjoining Jesus Shuttlesworth – the character he played in Lee’s film – with Ray-Ray, as another nickname.

In arenas league-wide, it didn’t take long for Allen to finally come into his own, as the team hit its highest apex since hoisting its first and only NBA Finals trophy nearly 30 years before. For the 52-win Deer, the 2000-2001 season yielded an appearance against the Philadelphia 76ers – who they beat twice in the regular season – in the Eastern Conference Finals. In his second straight year as an All-Star, Allen averaged 22 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists on 48 percent from the field (including 43 percent from behind the arc). Meanwhile, the first-time All-Star, Robinson, averaged 22 points to pair with 7 boards, and Cassell, who vastly improved his shot selection, put up 18.2 points and 7.6 dimes. The team wound up losing in seven games to a Sixers’ squad that heavily relied on offensive rebounding and Iverson, who scored 44 in the series-clinching game, to win.

For the Bucks, looking to piggyback off the previous season’s momentum, the 2001-02 season proved to warrant another deep playoff run. Near the end of the season, however, Ray Allen and backup center Tim Thomas went down with ankle injuries, as did ascending second-year man Michael Redd. The Bucks went a combined 8-18 over the last two months, missing the playoffs entirely. In his shortened season, Allen still managed an All-Star appearance, and to beat out Boston’s Antoine Walker for the most three-point field goals (229) in the league.

After beginning the 2002-03 season 14-20, the team went on to win 13 of 16. Thomas became a full-time starter, Redd saw increases in his minutes and scoring, but by spring, Allen would be a member of the Seattle Supersonics. In what was a trade deadline deal, Milwaukee acquired Gary Payton, who played under Karl a handful of years earlier, and Desmond Mason, for Allen and his former collegiate teammate at Connecticut, guard Kevin Ollie. The team finished 41-41, and the city was bound for an overhaul. Cassell’s role was at odds with the team’s blueprint, and he, the last piece of the once-promising Big Three, was dealt during the 2003 draft, in which the Bucks drafted T.J. Ford. Coach Karl was fired under new general manager Larry Harris’ regime, which took charge after Grunfeld departed.

Fast forward to now, and Allen appears unrecognizable as a former member of the Bucks’. Of course, he wound up being a key cog in another Big Three, appearing in multiple postseasons, and winning one NBA Championship with Paul Pierce and Garnett in Boston. His game-tying 3-pointer in the fourth quarter of the 2013 Finals, as a member of the Miami Heat, ranks as a premier moment in the sport of basketball’s history. Despite everything he accomplished from the 2003 trade deadline onward, Allen still whetted his matchless stroke in a Bucks’ uniform, which he wore for seven years – the longest stop in his historic career.

Allen was recently named as a nominee, like Bucks’ coach Jason Kidd and draft-class mate Nash, for the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame. It is hard to imagine that a sharpshooting pioneer, like Allen, would be shunned from Springfield, Mass., as his pull-up propensity and his silky shooting stroke has clearly paved the way for future Hall of Fame players, like Stephen Curry, who never had the ability to dominate games with overt physicality or a high-flying prowess. Allen currently ranks atop the NBA’s leaderboard for made 3-pointers (2,973), is 18th in offensive win shares (111.7), and should be seen, despite his defensive shortcomings, as one of the best players to ever have the ball in his hands.

As has been the case, finalists will be announced during NBA All-Star Weekend, which takes place in February in Los Angeles for the Class of 2018. The final Class of 2018 will be unveiled during the NCAA Final Four in San Antonio, Texas.

Starting with the 2018 class, players, referees and coaches are eligible for the Hall of Fame when they have been fully retired for three full seasons. This change differs from the previous minimum of four fully retired seasons.

It’s hard to say whether the Bucks will retire Allen’s jersey, considering Antetokounmpo is the one who currently dons it. Perhaps, they become the third team to have two players of the same number in their rafters, joining the Knicks and Trailblazers. Regardless, the man who helped introduce a whole generation to a game beyond the arc, and who once cultivated reason for Bucks’ fans to be optimistic in a new millennium, deserves to be enshrined, as a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

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