Saturday, July 7, 2012
What does Ray Allen bring to the Heat?
By Tom Haberstroh
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
A lineup featuring Ray Allen, Shane Battier and Miami's Big Three could be a nightmare to guard.
The rich get richer.
Those were the words, on Twitter, from Phoenix Suns forward Jared Dudley upon hearing that Ray Allen decided to leave the Boston Celtics and join the defending champion Miami Heat. It's a sentiment shared by many (check out Michael Vick's hashtags here).
The reason is obvious: Allen is as automatic from downtown as any player in the league, and 3-point shooting is a skill that eluded the Heat for much of last season.
Allen's résumé speaks for itself. He has nailed more 3-pointers than any other player in NBA history. In 46 games last season, he hit a career-high 45.3 percent of his tries from beyond the arc, good for fourth in the NBA.
But there are concerns. In about two weeks, Allen will turn 37 years old. Only two shooting guards in league history ever hit more than 100 3-point field goals in a season after their 37th birthday -- Reggie Miller and Dale Ellis. That's not an inspiring list, considering all the sweet-shooting 2-guards who have run through this league.
And then there's health. Fighting a gimpy right ankle throughout the postseason, Allen was forced to come off the bench and shot just 30.4 percent from downtown. It's no surprise that the troublesome ankle required surgery to remove bone spurs this offseason. These are the types of injuries that a player in his prime can shake off, but it'll be much harder for a player inching toward 40 years old.
But this is a low-risk, high-reward move that makes all the sense in the world for the Heat. Remember, they won the title playing small ball and have made it clear they want to play that style going forward; last season, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra insisted that he wanted teams to adapt to the Heat, not the other way around. By playing LeBron James at the 4 and Chris Bosh at the 5 in the playoffs, he did just that. And it helped catapult Miami to a title.
Is Allen a good fit? Looking at the roster, it doesn't seem like shooting guard is a pressing need. After all, they have some guy named Dwyane Wade playing that position. But the Heat could be desperate for a dynamic floor-spacer at the 2 if Mike Miller can't return to form after back surgery. James Jones, Miami's other 3-point threat, might as well play with a ball rack at his side, and Allen is more than just a stationary shooter.
It's unclear whether Allen will start or not, most likely in place of Mario Chalmers, but it won't matter. The Heat will plan to use him for big minutes, especially in crunch time, and it makes some sense to save Allen or Wade from having to defend the opposing point guard right away. Though we might see Allen jump in the starting lineup in the playoffs, the regular season is a grind and it's unlikely the Heat will deploy that kind of unconventional warfare until the postseason.
But imagine all the open jumpers Allen will see in that offense. Remember Miller and Battier's 3-point clinic in the NBA Finals? That all happened with LeBron James playing on the block and feeding his shooters once the defense was forced to collapse on the improved post player. If the Heat are serious about playing small ball, there's no reason why Allen won't be the recipient of those bullet passes in Miami. When the Heat have 3-point shooters flanking the Big Three, the long-feared pick-your-poison offense comes to life.
And that corner 3. The most fruitful shot in the NBA is the corner 3, and almost no one excels at that shot quite like Allen. According to NBA shot-chart guru Kirk Goldsberry, Allen scores 1.71 points per shot from the left corner. How good is that? It's the best player/spot combo in the NBA, hands down, according to Goldsberry's research. (If you need to see it to believe it, look at those green dots on his Basketball-Reference shot chart.) The Heat shot just 36.3 percent from the corner, which is about average, according to NBA.com. Allen shot 48.3 percent from there. If Spoelstra can get Allen the ball there consistently, there will be blood, as Goldsberry put it.
Allen will need to provide those corner 3-pointers if he wants to mitigate his defensive liabilities. The Heat should be able to weather that storm with their airtight rotations underneath the rim, but it will be a challenge for LeBron and Bosh in the paint, if they are indeed going to supply Miami's front line. The Celtics were about five points per 100 possessions more efficient offensively with Allen on the floor last season, but five points worse defensively, which speaks to Allen's one-way game at this stage in his career.
Still, the Heat's offense should be a terror to guard if Allen is healthy (which is a huge "if" at this point of his career). That's especially true if he plays in an unconventional lineup with Battier and the Big Three, where there would be no traditional point guard or center. The four-player combination of Battier, Bosh, James and Wade scored 115 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs. The average team in the postseason? About 99 points per 100 possessions. Add Allen's 3-point exploits to that equation, and the Heat's side of the scoreboard might look like an odometer on fast forward.
The Heat are getting older quickly, but that's the gamble they made when they locked up so much money in three players roughly in their prime. And if Allen and the rest of the core can stay healthy in their later years, LeBron's infamous dynasty proclamation may not be too far off.