How Ray Allen Signing Will Solve Heat's Struggles Against Zone Defenses
The Miami Heat have been one of the most dominant forces in basketball over the past two seasons.
Despite reaching the last two NBA title series, the Heat have had a plethora of flaws along the way, ultimately dooming them in 2011 and nearly causing their demise last season before they found an effective system.
While Miami may be overly scrutinized due to its "Hollywood as hell" nature, there is no doubt that the Heat have had shortcomings in their game. One of those shortcomings is their less-than-stellar ability against opposing teams' zone defense.
A large factor in the Heat's problem against the zone was a lack of consistent three-point shooting from their supporting cast until last year's postseason.
Fortunately for Miami, they were able to sign the NBA's all-time leading three-point shooter. Ray Allen will cure a lot of the Heat's issues against zone defenses.
Here is what a healthy Allen can do for the Heat.
Spread the Floor
The Heat work in beautiful harmony when their role players are nailing open three-point shots. As showcased in their Game 5 clinching blowout over Oklahoma City in the finals, the Heat are nearly unstoppable when their shooters are hitting shots.
When zone defenses were employed against the Heat, their efficiency went down dramatically. In a small sample size from the beginning of last season, Miami averaged a paltry 74.0 points against the zone and shot just 38 percent, according to Synergy Sports.
That is a product of the floor being clogged as the Heat's offense goes stagnant against an effective zone defense.
But, when LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are driving and they kick it out to open shooters who can make the shot more times than not, the Heat become a dynamic offense.
Ray Allen's shooting abilities are so dangerous that defenses are forced to constantly stay on him around the perimeter, which will ultimately space the floor and make for a more fluid Miami offense.
Moving Without the Ball
For a number of years, Ray Allen has been among the best in the league when it comes to moving without the ball. Along with Richard Hamilton, Allen has a unique ability to run from corner to corner for the majority of an offensive possession.
Allen's exceptional stamina and talent of moving without the ball are primary factors in his great ability to get open for jump shots. Opposing defenses don't just allow Allen to post on the perimeter and wait for his shot—he gets himself open by going around screens and running to specific spots on the floor.
A great tactic to employ against zone defenses is moving without the ball, so with Allen providing that, the Heat will undoubtedly improve against the zone.
Catch and Shoot Opportunities
With James, Wade and Chris Bosh all on one roster, there will be plenty of double-teams used by opposing defenses, leaving Miami's shooters open for catch-and-shoot opportunities.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, 63 percent of the Heat’s catch-and-shoot jumpers were unguarded, which was the third-highest percentage in the NBA.
Allen has had a stellar field-goal percentage on unguarded catch-and-shoot jumpers in each of the last two seasons, shooting 51 percent in 2010-11 and 52 percent last season. He was ranked sixth of the 68 players with at least 100 attempts last year, according to ESPN.
With Allen likely being left open more than he ever has in his career this season because of Miami's Big Three, he will improve the Heat's catch-and-shoot clip, ultimately helping their struggles against zone defenses.
Controlling the Tempo
One of the Heat's biggest strengths is their ability to control the tempo of a game. Miami is at its best when in the open court and getting buckets in transition. When the Heat are running and getting what they want in the open court, they force teams to play at their tempo.
That is usually a recipe for success.
However, when opposing teams utilize the zone defense, the Heat's offense starts to slow down in the half-court game. In those situations, the Heat can look like a deer in headlights as either James or Wade try to force scoring. When that duo goes into isolation mode, a lot of the time, it creates hesitancy and a poor possession for Miami.
Now, that the Heat have a Hall of Fame sharpshooter as a threat, it will be very difficult for the zone defense to work as well anymore. Opponents will be forced to stay on the perimeter because Allen is not Mike Miller, Shane Battier or James Jones, who were all very inconsistent shooters in the regular season last year.
Pick Your Poison
With the addition of Ray Allen, and to a lesser extent, Rashard Lewis, the 2012 Heat have truly become a pick-your-poison team.
When Pat Riley put this squad together, this is exactly what he envisioned—a position-less basketball team that forces defenses to literally pick the poison of either penetration from James or Wade or lights-out shooting from a shooter like Allen.
In the past two seasons when James or Wade were driving, there was really never a consistent three-point shooter who could be relied on to hit the open three. Sure, Mario Chalmers, Miller and Battier had their moments, but it was never on a consistent enough basis to keep opposing defenses honest (until the NBA Finals).
Now, when James or Wade drives to the hole, they have the supreme athletic ability to either finish or get fouled. But, if they get jammed up, they have the option to create some drive-and-kick opportunities, swing the ball and kick it out to the best three-point shooter in NBA history.
With the addition of Allen, the Heat can finally become that intimidating, downright scary team that a lot of people expected them to be when they promised "not one, not two, not three..." championships.