Miami Heat: How Much Can Ray Allen Contribute?

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Miami Heat: How Much Can Ray Allen Contribute?
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The Miami Heat are unstoppable when their shooters get hot during games.

We saw this manifest in an absurd way with Shane Battier at the tail end of the Heat's playoff run, and in more conventional ways with players like Mike Miller in the clinching Game 5 of the finals.

The outside shooting of these role players allows for Miami to cover the biggest weakness of its twin superstars—which is of course three-point shooting and really isn't that big of a weakness to begin with. If you want to be a dynasty—even with Wade and James buoying your team—you're going to have to nitpick.

What players like Battier, Miller, and (maybe once or twice a year) James Jones do is best stated by Matt Moore of Pro Basketball Talk over at NBC Sports:

"The formula the Heat uses is eerily similar to what the Rockets did in ’94 and ’95, and the Lakers in the early 2000s. A superior inside presence forces the defense to collapse, and a quality passer finds the open shooter on the perimeter. You don’t need crack shooters if you’re that wide open." 

What if they did have a crack shooter, though?

ESPN's Brian Windhorst reports there is 'mutual interest' between free-agent Ray Allen and the Miami Heat. If such a scenario becomes a reality, then it will give the defending champions the greatest long-ball assassin in the league's history, and a shooter who can make the same wide open shots that—once or twice a year—James Jones can't hit.

That easily qualifies as a scary what-if scenario.

Should the Heat bother signing Ray Allen

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The gut-check reaction for news like this is something of a mix between dread and disbelief. Once you work through that, though, it starts to become clear that this isn't exactly a "dream signing" for the NBA champs.

Before we get to that, though, let's take a quick look at what Ray Allen does bring to the Heat's table.

He has to be guarded at all times, is a master of the dagger three, can lock up games all by himself with his free-throw shooting and spaces the floor. 

When you have players like Shane Battier and Mike Miller, you sometimes leave them to double-team a driving LeBron. James must then choose to try and finish anyway, or kick out to the open man. For defenses, this scenario is profitable because it forces LeBron into a tougher shot, but also because the Battiers and Millers of the world don't make every open shot.

Ray Allen cannot be played like that. He must have a body responsible for him at all times. Wade and James can exploit this by driving in the area of Allen and forcing the defender to either leave the three-point king open or not help on the drive. 

As for the second point—dagger threes—take this into account: Ray Allen made 44 percent of threes with a minute or less remaining from the 2006 season onward, and made 54 percent of all assisted shots taken since 2000 (per LibertyBallers.com).

The Heat often have sequences where there will be some sort of absurd Wade circus-shot followed by an and-one layup by James on the next play after a defensive stop. Those are back-breakers. If you sandwich an Allen-three somewhere in those sequences, they become downright mojo stealing.

Ray is also a career 89 percent free-throw shooter, and popped in freebies at a 91 percent clip just last year (per Basketball-Reference.com). If he gets the ball at the end of a game and you have to foul him, that's two points. It also takes pressure off of LeBron to make literally everything he takes in the fourth quarter.

Spacing the floor is an obvious benefit. Three-point shooters allow James and Wade to collapse the defense and kick out, as Moore said. Ray Allen clearly fits that description.

Roster fit is where this potential signing becomes murky. 

Ray Allen is purely a shooting guard, and always has been. In my opinion, he kind of defines that position. Dwyane Wade is also a shooting guard, though. This means that Allen will either have to spell Wade—who plays 39.4 minutes per game—or force other players out of position.

I am willing to assume full personal responsibility for the assumption that the Heat would want Allen to play more than 10 or so minutes a game.

So if they want to run their four best players on the floor at one time—which they should—they really only have one option. 

Wade playing at (and guarding the other team's) point, Ray at two, LeBron, Bosh and whoever is seven-foot and currently breathing at the center spot.

LeBron would have to run as point forward—which is something he started to get away from a little in the playoffs in order to rebound and look for his own shot more. While LeBron is clearly a tremendous passer, this change in play style was very beneficial to him; and forcing him back into more of a distributor's role could be dangerous.

There is also the growing realization that James could be the best power forward in the league despite only playing the position on certain occasions. The Heat's flexibility to run a small lineup with Bosh at center and James at power forward, respectively, would be limited by the presence of Ray Allen. Neither he nor Wade possess the tools to spend time at the three spot.

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The other troubling aspect is how this signing could hamper the development of Mario Chalmers. Even though they insist on yelling at him continuously, Chalmers has quietly developed into a more-than-serviceable starting point. Hovering around 11 points, four rebounds and four assists a game in the playoffs, he has potential to join what I like to call the "Conley-level" of NBA points—incredibly solid producers who have the potential to significantly affect certain games.

Relegating him to a smaller role to make room for Ray Allen is a move that certainly makes sense for this year, but on a team that is already the easy favorites to repeat, it seems like an unnecessary risk for the future.

Allen would be an incredible pickup for the Heat. That being said, though, this is a clear case of the best-player-available draft strategy being used for free agency. 

It would be a dream signing if Ray was a hybrid wing—someone like a Trevor Ariza-style player who can spread the floor from either the two or the three.

But he's still Ray Allen. What he brings to the table is obvious. This signing would be a great one, though it's one that still screams superfluous to me. The Heat don't need Allen to repeat, and he's not the guy that's going to get them to their eight-championship watermark. 

He would help tremendously with the next one or two. More terrifyingly for the rest of the league, his signing would break the dam for aging NBA greats looking to tack a ring or two onto their résumés before they retire. 

Maybe Mark Cuban offers him an absurd contract just to keep him away from the Heat. Maybe this is all a Doc Rivers crafted ploy to make the Heat wait on Allen to sign with them all summer, and then be left with no one when he comes back to the Celtics.

All every other team in the league can do is cross their fingers.

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