How Ray Allen Helps and Hurts the Miami Heat
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It was one of the most celebrating signings of the 2012 offseason.
Micky Arison tweeted from London:
"Its 2:30am in London and I was just woken up with great news. Welcome to the family #20!!"
That, after all, didn't matter nearly as much as what everyone seemingly agreed was a coup.
It seemed like such an obvious addition, one at minimal cost—a one-year contract for $3 million with a player option—for a proven veteran who appeared to be a perfect fit.
This was a surefire Hall of Famer, the NBA's all-time three-point shooter. This was someone whose scary presence behind the arc would further free the lane for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, someone who took great care of his body and someone who had seemingly accepted the prospect of a reserve role.
At his first Heat press conference, Allen was asked how much he believed he had left, for a season in which he would be 37 years old.
"Well, I’ll take you back to when I was 29 and I was trying to sign a five-year deal with Seattle, and a lot of people didn’t think I would last through that five-year deal," Allen said. "You know, that put me at 34 at the time. I’ve always said that I’ve been on borrowed time."
So how has his time with Miami gone so far?
(All quotes for this piece were collected over the course of the author's coverage of the Miami Heat for the Palm Beach Post. All statistics are updated as of Sunday night.)
Helped: Still Deadly Down the Stretch
There's no hesitation when Ray Allen gets the ball in the clutch.
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Each has come to AmericanAirlines Arena this season, and taken the Heat to the final minute or overtime, with an opportunity to win.
Each has been thwarted by a late Ray Allen three-point—or four-point—play.
Each time, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade speak about how much they appreciate his poise and precision in those moments. Each time, Erik Spoelstra says something like this: "He's given us his Hall of Fame credentials in the fourth quarter by making big plays. It's a tremendous weapon to have."
Allen is taking about 40 percent of his total shots in the fourth quarter, and he's making more than 46 percent of them, which is certainly healthy.
And if that's all Allen does, a couple of times during the playoffs, then most will term the signing a success. At the very least, he has relieved some of the shooting burden on James down the stretch; the critics can't chew him up for passing to one of the game's most accurate shooters, quite like they could when he was deferring to the likes of Udonis Haslem or Mario Chalmers.
James continues to call it "absurd" and "crazy" that anyone would leave Allen open.
"Every time a guy turns his head I have to find the open spot so LeBron can see me," Allen said after the winning strike against San Antonio.
Defenders will keep turning heads, just long enough, because they are even more afraid of James barreling to the basket against a single defender than of Allen setting up in the corner. And so long as that trend continues, Allen will get opportunities to be the hero.
Every one he seizes will serve to justify his acquisition.
Hurt: A Step Slow on Defense
Sometimes, when an opponent is driving, Ray Allen is not prominent in the picture.
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Just as the ball finds Ray Allen on offense, opponents find him on defense.
This was evident again on Sunday's trip to Toronto, when quicker, younger players DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry took turns sizing him up.
Allen was a minus-10 in his 20 minutes, by far the worst on the Heat in a 15-point win—by comparison, starting off-guard Dwyane Wade was a plus-21 in 32 minutes.
And while Allen again struggled to score on the road, which we will cover in greater depth shortly, the bigger issue was that there simply wasn't anyone on the floor he could deter.
Allen's defensive rating per 100 possessions, according to Basketball Reference, is about the same as that of Mike Miller, Rashard Lewis and even Shane Battier, so this is more about the eye test than an empirical evaluation. Too often, Allen is badly trailing his man, which forces rotation, which leaves a shooter, dunker or driver open somewhere else on the floor.
None of this will be news to fans in Boston, who noticed a defensive improvement when Avery Bradley began taking some of Allen's minutes last season. The question is whether Allen's offensive attributes—specifically his clutch shooting and his free-throw accuracy—will be enough to outweigh the troubles on the other end, especially since his rebounding and passing aren't elite for his position.
As it is, when Allen plays in a backcourt with Dwyane Wade, Wade is usually required to chase the other point guard; taxing work that sometimes takes something away from his offense.
Allen has repeatedly said that it would take him some time to fully understand the Heat's scheme, so it would become instinctive. He has less than three months to sort that out, before the real games start.
Helped: In Miami, He's Been on Target
Some early game-winners made Ray Allen feel right at home.
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Ray Allen has made it known.
He likes AmericanAirlines Arena.
He likes that it is, as he put it, "a one-stop shop," with a practice facility, a family room, a training room, a parking garage, all the amenities that a professional basketball player would require.
He apparently likes the shooting background, too.
Of his top six scoring outputs this season, five have come in Miami, and the other came in Boston, his previous home. Four times, he has taken at least five shot attempts and made at least 70 percent of them. Those all occurred in Miami as well.
Overall, Allen is shooting 53.8 percent at home, which dwarfs his career mark of 46.3 percent.
This is by far the best he's shot at home in any season in his career.
And so Heat fans have seen, up close, the best of him, as he has played a huge role in Miami's 18-3 home record. He has shot 53 percent from behind the arc, which the average NBA player couldn't accomplish while unguarded in warmups.
Allen hasn't been able to fully explain why he has acclimated so quickly to his new surroundings.
Though, certainly, the house he's renting would make anyone feel comfortable.
Hurt: "Road Ray" Has Been off His Game
None of Ray Allen's shots went down in Indiana.
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It's not unusual for role players, especially young role players, to struggle on the road.
Grueling travel. Little sleep.
No home-cooked meals.
The assumption, however, was that Ray Allen—now a role player at this advanced stage of his career—would be immune to any such issues. In 17 seasons, he's seen everything, played everywhere.
But as good as he's been at home, he's been that much of a hindrance on the road.
His statistics drop more than any other Heat player, making it natural to draw some correlation from his struggles to the variance in the Heat's records (18-3 at home to 12-10 on the road).
Erik Spoelstra is still playing him the same number of minutes away from AmericanAirlines Arena, but is getting far less production. Allen's 0-for-6 in 47 minutes in Indiana and Toronto dropped him under 40 percent on the road.
He was 3-of-13 in Detroit.
He was 1-of-6 in Milwaukee.
He was 3-of-11 in Golden State.
And while he was 7-of-17 in Boston, as his teammates kept force-feeding him the ball, he missed some shots down the stretch that could have sealed it.
And that, in all likelihood, he would have made in Miami.
Conclusion: The Playoffs Will Decide
Will the partnership with LeBron James result in another championship?
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Ray Allen loves to use the word "interesting."
He doesn't sprint through it, as maybe people do.
Rather, he enunciates—as in "in-ter-est-ing."
His short tenure with the Heat has been "in-ter-est-ing" too, but as with that word, any evaluation needs to be drawn out for a bit longer.
On his recent trip back to Boston, he was asked to restate his reason for leaving.
I had to decide what was best for my family. I’ll tell you, it was disappointing for us to have to go, but we had to make that decision. It’s unfortunate. We loved this place. We loved playing here. But circumstances presented themselves to us in the way that they did, and we had to move on.
When he considered moving to Miami, the Heat had to consider taking him in.
Sure, there were other needs, such as frontcourt bulk, but Pat Riley had limited financial resources, and needed proven talent at any position to supplement the roster. When Allen was willing to take below-market value, in part to stick it to the Celtics, it was unreasonable to expect Riley and the Heat to resist.
But the acquisition has come at a cost, beyond the relatively modest financial payouts.
To make time for Allen, Erik Spoelstra has cut into minutes for others, notably Mike Miller, a superior rebounder, at least Allen's equal as a defender and not all that much less accurate as a shooter in his current healthy state. He has also given LeBron James more of the ball-handling burden, since Allen's presence usually takes both point guards off the court.
Allen has outwardly accepted his reserve role, even if he sometimes hints at the difficulty of staying sharp when not starting. He has the team's fourth-highest win share, according to Basketball Reference, and his effective field-goal percentage of .578 is exceptional, second only to James among Heat players who have been regulars for most of the season.
That makes it wrong to call him a bust.
That won't be known until spring's flowers bloom. That's when we'll see whether he's consistently giving more to the Heat's latest championship run than his deficiencies may give away.