Is Reggie Miller or Ray Allen the Better All-Time NBA Sharpshooter?

Roy BurtonContributor ISeptember 19, 2012

Is Reggie Miller or Ray Allen the Better All-Time NBA Sharpshooter?

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    In recent years, there are few arguments more spirited than the debate as to whether Reggie Miller or Ray Allen is the best sharpshooter in NBA history.

    Because the two are the most prolific three-point marksmen of all time, they will forever be linked in the NBA's record books. Allen and Miller have combined for more than 5,200 three-pointers in their careers, but each took a separate path on their respective roads to basketball immortality.

    Allen is a prototypical shooting guard who—due in part to a self-diagnosed case of obsessive compulsive disorder—arrives at the arena three hours before tip-off as part of his pregame ritual. Miller, meanwhile, was a reed thin (6'7", 185 pounds) sniper who personified the word "clutch," most notably during his infamous battles with the New York Knicks nearly 20 years ago.

    On the "Hall of Fame Pyramid" in the first edition of The Book of Basketball, ESPN's Bill Simmons ranked Allen (No. 63 overall) and Miller (No. 62) in a virtual dead heat. Fourteen months later, in the revised paperback version of his book, Simmons had a change of heart and switched the order of the two players.

    It's clear that the difference between Miller and Allen is razor-thin, but there are facts and figures that tilt the scale ever so slightly in one direction. So, in the wake of Miller's recent induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame, let's take a moment to compare two of the best shooting guards in NBA history.

Inside the Numbers

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    Career Regular Season Averages

    • Allen: 20.0 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.2 SPG, 45.2 FG%, 40.0 3PT%, 89.4 FT%
    • Miller: 18.2 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.1 SPG, 47.1 FG%, 39.5 3PT%, 88.8 FT%

    In terms of per-game averages, Allen has a clear advantage over Miller. Despite giving up two inches to the former Pacers guard, the 6'5" Allen is a far better rebounder and contributes more in the other statistical categories as well. The two are basically a wash when it comes to three-point and free-throw shooting percentages, but Miller's numbers show that he was the far more proficient shooter from inside the arc.

    As far as the playoffs are concerned, Miller showed a marked improvement during the second season throughout his career (20.6 PPG), while Allen's playoff average (18.2 PPG) is nearly two points less than his regular season figure.

    It's important to note that for the majority of Miller's career, he played in an era where it was legal for defenders to "hand check" opponents on the perimeter. Roland Lazenby eloquently describes the effect that the NBA's rule changes had on wing players, so it's easy to speculate that Miller's numbers could have improved drastically had he enjoyed the same freedoms that the league's perimeter players have now.

Inside the (Advanced) Numbers

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    Advanced Statistics (Career)

    • Allen: 19.0 PER, 114 ORating, 108 DRating, 24.3 Usage Pct, 57.9 TS%
    • Miller: 18.4 PER, 121 ORating, 109 DRating, 21.6 Usage Pct, 61.4 TS% 

    Neither Ray Allen nor Reggie Miller will be remembered much for their defensive prowess, but they were so dominant on offense that their shortcomings on the other end of the court can easily be dismissed.

    Using John Hollinger's Player Efficiency Rating system, Allen has been marginally better over his career—offensively, at least—than Miller (19.0 vs. 18.4). But when judged based on Dean Oliver's "Offensive Rating" statistic, Miller checks in at an astonishing 121 points produced per 100 possessions.

    To put that number in perspective, according to the ORating metric, only one player in the history of the NBA—Chris Paul—has been more efficient at producing points for his team than Miller was during his career. Even more impressive is the fact that Miller was a Hall of Fame-caliber scorer despite a relatively modest usage rate of 21.6 percent. 

    For 18 years, Miller found a way to light up the scoreboard without dominating the ball. Of course, it should be noted that one of the main reasons why Miller's usage rate is so low is because of his inability to break defenders down off of the dribble. Very rarely did Miller get the best of his man in an iso situation—a lot of his success came as a result of running off of multiple screens. That said, Miller was a phenomenal offensive talent whose career true shooting percentage of 61.4 is sixth-best in NBA history.

Head-to-Head

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    Regular Season

    • Allen (25 games): 10-15, 18.0 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.3 SPG, 42.1 FG%, 38.3 3PT%
    • Miller (25 games): 15-10, 20.5 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 2.5 APG, 0.9 SPG, 47.3 FG%, 39.3 3PT% 

    Playoffs

    • Allen (8 games): 2-6, 22.1 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.4 SPG, 47.4 FG%, 42.2 3PT%
    • Miller (8 games): 6-2, 25.0 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.1 SPG, 42.0 FG%, 28.4 3PT%

    For what it's worth, Allen and Miller played against each other 25 times in the regular season with Miller's Pacers winning 15 of those matchups. Miller was typically the more prolific scorer whenever the two of them shared the same court, but Allen did a better job of filling the stat sheet.

    In an interesting twist, Miller and Allen also squared off in the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs two years in a row. Indiana swept Milwaukee 3-0 after the lockout-shortened 1999 season, and the Pacers-Bucks series in 2000 was tied at two games apiece before Miller scored 41 points to lead Indiana to victory in the deciding Game 5.

    One caveat: The head-to-head breakdown isn't an entirely fair comparison since there was a 10-year age gap—and a nine-year experience advantage in favor of Miller—between the two players.

Awards & Achievements

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    Allen: 10x All-Star, 2x All-NBA selection (one 2nd Team, one 3rd Team), All-Rookie selection (2nd Team), 3x league leader in 3-pointers, 2,718 career 3-pointers (1st all-time), Olympic gold medalist (2000)

    Miller: 5x All-Star, 3x All-NBA selection (all 3rd Team), 2x league leader in 3-pointers, 5x league leader in FT%, 2,560 career 3-pointers (2nd all-time), 2012 Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, Olympic gold medalist (1996)

    Allen was named to twice as many All-Star games as Miller was, but the former Pacer earned three All-NBA nods as opposed to Allen's two. Between the two of them, Allen and Miller led the NBA in three-pointers a total of five times, but neither ever led the league in three-point percentage for a single season.

    Both have Olympic gold medals to their credit: Miller represented the United States at the 1996 Games in Atlanta while Allen was part of the gold medal squad at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. 

    The feather in Miller's cap is his recent induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, but Allen will inevitably get a similar call from Springfield as soon as he's eligible.

Team Success

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    Reggie Miller was the best player for a franchise that made the Finals (2000), and helped lead the Pacers to five other Eastern Conference Finals appearances. However, in his 18 NBA seasons, Miller only made it out of the first round of the playoffs seven times. 

    Ray Allen has nine postseason appearances to his credit and, like Miller, has also won a first-round playoff series on seven occasions. Allen's 2008 championship ring gives him the edge in overall team success, but he was the third-best player on the Celtics team that captured the Larry O'Brien Trophy four seasons ago. 

    Conversely, Miller never played with anyone who was as skilled as he was, and he was still able to will Indiana to an NBA Finals—a feat that Allen simply can't match. 

Conclusion

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    Depending on how the question is framed—Who is more clutch? Who is the better three-point shooter?—deciding between Ray Allen and Reggie Miller can be an excruciatingly difficult choice. But when it comes to choosing the better overall player between the two, Allen gets the nod over Miller by a very slight margin.

    Both are among the greatest shooters in NBA history, but Allen is a more complete player, and his individual accolades carry more weight than those belonging to Miller. It took Allen 309 fewer games to break Miller's career mark for total three-pointers, and he should put that record entirely out of reach with two more solid campaigns down in South Beach.

    There is a vocal contingent that believes that Miller is overrated as a result of his feud with the Knicks/Spike Lee, but that clearly isn't the case. Miller is unquestionably one of the greatest scorers of his era, and the former Pacer did a yeoman's job of leading a mediocre Indiana team to postseason success in the mid-to-late '90s and early 2000s.

    There also happens to be a very loud chorus—led by Bill Simmons himself—who feels that once Allen retires from the game of basketball, there will be nothing left to debate.

    "By the time it's over, the 'Who was better, Reggie Miller or Ray Allen?' question will no longer be asked," wrote Simmons. "We'll remember Ray Allen as the greatest long-range shooter ever."