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SBN Wisconsin HOF Nominee #4: Ray Allen

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A couple weeks ago we asked you to vote for the top ten Bucks of all time. The first three nominees were Kareem Abdul-JabbarOscar Robertson, and Sidney Moncrief with each of our nominations eligible for the forthcoming SBN Wisconsin Hall of Fame ballot that will also include nominees from Brew Crew BallAcme Packing CompanyBucky's 5th Quarter and Anonymous Eagle.

Hey, it's somebody I actually saw play!

You can't argue too much with the first three nominees in our continuing series--though I'd have personally put Sir Sid ahead of Oscar simply on account of his contributions for the Bucks. Beyond that it gets a bit dicier, but the people have spoken. Named on 86% of our ballots, Walter Ray Allen checks in at the #4 spot in our tally of all-time Bucks.

After nearly seven seasons and 494 games in Milwaukee, Allen only ranks ninth in Bucks history in total points (9,681) but sixth in career scoring average (19.6 ppg), fifth in true shooting percentage (57.1%), fifth in PER (19.3), sixth in win shares, and first in three pointers (1,051). Ironically, he now trails Michael Redd in most of those categories--but it's no secret which of the two guys evokes more fond feelings in MIlwaukee.

So was Allen really that good or has his success since leaving Milwaukee perhaps colored our perception of his days in Milwaukee?  It's probably a bit of both, but Allen's legacy also shows the importance of winning with class and style. 

It's not to say it was always easy for the former UConn All-American. I still remember being somewhat disappointed when I heard the Bucks were trading the rights to their fourth overall pick Stephon Marbury for Allen (the fifth overall pick) and a future first, but I guess that goes to show I wasn't the shrewdest talent evaluator back when I was 15. Allen started all but one game as a rookie and by his second season had established himself as one of the game's best young guards (19.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 4.3 apg). Still, the Bucks were going nowhere in the win department, winning 33 and 36 games in Allen's first two seasons.

Enter George Karl. The former Sonics coach made an instant impact in the lockout-shortened 98/99 season, establishing a more balanced attack that saw Allen and fellow scoring ace Glenn Robinson play fewer minutes and score fewer point but do so more efficiently. Allen's scoring averaged dropped (17.1 ppg in 34.4 mpg vs. 19.5 ppg in 40.1 mpg the previous year) but his TS% (.564), PER (18.9) and win shares (.148/48 min) all saw a healthy boost. Most importantly, the Bucks had their first winning season (28-22) since 90/91, which made their 3-0 first round loss to Reggie Miller's Pacers a bit more palatable.

The following season saw modest progress on the court, though Allen reached new personal heights. Playing alongside Sam Cassell, Ray-Ray earned his first of three consecutive all-star berths while leading the Bucks with 22.5 ppg on 57.0% true shooting. And though the Pacers again dispatched the 42-40 Bucks in the first round, Milwaukee provided more than token resistance this time around, taking the Pacers to a pivotal fifth game that they lost by a single point.

With a year of playing experience together, the Big Three-led Bucks came into their own in 2000/2001. Allen and Big Dog each averaged 22.0 ppg and were named All-Stars for the second consecutive season, while Cassell pumped in 18.2 ppg and nearly eight assists per game to lead the Bucks to 52 wins and their only division title in the past 24 years.

I also remember the BC being so different that year as compared to the lean years of the previous decade. I was a sophomore in college and made it back from the East Coast to see about five games during the school year, thankfully including the East Finals, and the sense of expectation and confidence was just noticeably different, even among the fans. There was an expectation that we were going to see great things, not in a spoiled kind of way, but in an excited, anticipatory kind of way. I honestly hadn't felt something similar until I made it back for games three and four of the Hawks series last season.     

Allen also posted a career-high 22.9 PER, a stellar .610 TS%, and finished third in the league in win shares (13.7), further elevating his game in the Bucks' memorable playoff run with 25.1 ppg and 6.0 apg on .477/.479/.919 shooting. And Allen was never better than in game six of the East Finals against Philly. With the Bucks facing elimination after a heart-breaking game five loss in Philly, Allen scored 25 in the first half and finished with 41 points (including nine threes) to electrify the BC. If you wanted to find the climax of Allen's career in Milwaukee, this was it.  

Unfortunately, we all know the 2001 run was not the beginning of big things as we hoped. And given the mediocrity that preceded and followed it, the '01 squad now seems like a bizarre but completely fantastic aberration.  Their combination of explosive scorers and blue collar big men made them fun, endearing and likably flawed all at the same time. In retrospect it seems kind of obvious that a nucleus of Ray, Big Dog and Cassell wasn't built for the long haul, but it was infinitely better than we had gotten used to seeing.  

So it was hard to imagine that two years later Allen, Robinson and Cassell would all be gone. In 01/02 the mojo of the previous spring seemed to initially carry over, as the Bucks raced to a 9-1 start with new face Anthony Mason anchoring the front line. The Big Three continued to light up scoreboards, each averaging 20+ ppg, but down the stretch the team simply wilted. Milwaukee lost 16 of its final 22 games and was infamously (and fittingly) destroyed in the must-win season finale in Detroit.  In the span of a month, the Bucks went from fighting for home court in the playoffs to sitting at home watching them on TV.  The writing was on the wall, and Robinson was the first to go the following August.

Surprisingly, Allen would last just 46 games longer than Big Dog. Puttering along at a game over .500, Karl would help engineer a move to acquire his former quarterback in Seattle, Gary Payton, in return shipping the Bucks' brightest star to the Northwest. The emergence of Redd no doubt hastened Allen's departure, but a first round loss to the Nets and Payton's departure as a free agent left the Bucks with rather little to show for their gamble.

Allen was still only 27 at the time of the trade, and though the younger Redd wasted little time in replacing him as the team's scoring machine, there's always been a justifiable sense of frustration with how Allen was lost. The fact that he continued to excel after leaving Milwaukee is no doubt a big part of it, and it's probably not worth trying to explain that Redd's inability to match Allen's win totals has also had something to do with coaches and general talent level. Instead, Allen continued to excel as the go-to-guy in Seattle for four seasons before finally winning his title as a member of the (new) Big Three in Boston. And with Allen having already cracked 20,000 points, the Hall of Fame seems an obvious destination once he tires of launching that sweet, effortless jumper.