By now it’s safe to say that Pat Riley’s decision to target Ray Allen in free agency was an intelligent one. While his struggles to adjust to Miami’s defensive philosophy of constant ball pressure and tight rotations have been well documented, on offense Allen has played some of the most efficient basketball of his Hall of Fame career, with production that should overreach the Heat organization’s wildest expectations.
Allen is averaging the fewest points per game of his entire career, but shooting three-pointers more accurately than ever before. His PER is fourth highest on the team (higher now than it was at the end of every year in Boston), and his general effectiveness within Miami’s already colossal offensive attack is making things feel borderline unfair.
It’s a small sample size, but in clutch situations Allen has been deadly this season, scoring 22 points on 70% shooting from the floor when Miami is either tied or trailing by five points with under three minutes to go. Just two months into the season, he’s already pushed three games in Miami’s favor with the flick of his flawless wrist (thanks for coming out Denver, Cleveland, and San Antonio’s backups).
His release remains rapid fire, and his precision hasn’t fallen off in the slightest. Apart from playing beside LeBron James (a player who elevates the game of those around him better than anybody in the last 25 years), how is it Allen is playing so well in Miami after showing steep enough of a decline in Boston to lose his job as a starter?
With the help of Synergy, here’s a closer look at where his offense is coming from now as opposed to last season.
This season: 17.2% off screens (16th in the league, 1.02 PPP), 10.8% P&R ball-handler (0.87 PPP), 34.1% spot-up (11th in the league, 1.29 PPP)
Last season: 35.7% off screens (13th in the league, 1.05 PPP), 11.1% P&R ball-handler (0.59 PPP), 19.6% spot-up (14th in the league, 1.23 PPP)
The obvious difference between the two is that in Boston, the Celtics utilized Allen a ton off screens. Most of them were drawn out, sideline to sideline sets that worked enough, but always seemed to stifle their offense.
Miami has opted not to use Allen in the same way the Celtics did. In Boston, shooting off so many screens unnecessarily gave Allen’s ankles a pounding before the All-Star break and consumed shot clocks. In Miami, Allen has the benefit of multiple offensive threats capable of diverting a defense’s attention.
As a result, Allen finds more wide-open spot up opportunities, nullifying the need for him to move so intensely without the ball.
Here we have James bullying his way towards the foul-line, catching an entry pass, reading the defense, and immediately finding Allen for a quick three-pointer.
In addition, the weak side action of potent long range threats like Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers, Chris Bosh, and Shane Battier have made Allen’s life easier than even he probably expected.
With James directing traffic at the elbow, Joel Anthony sets a screen for Battier on the weak side, allowing Cole and Allen to work a quick off-ball screen-and-pop in the corner.
Miami’s offense is so great because it boasts several penetrators capable of putting the ball on the floor and drawing an opposing team’s defense into the paint (Dwyane Wade, LeBron, Chalmers, and Norris Cole), along with a slew of potent shooters. Here, the upgrade is undeniable when compared to Boston’s personnel last season.
Watch the action that happens after Allen catches the ball on his curl. As Wade drops into the paint, three Wizards are more concerned with an over-the-top lob than they are Allen behind the three-point line. Smart defenses won’t do this, but for a relatively meaningless possession in a relatively meaningless game, Allen barely breaks a sweat in attempting a wide open three.
When the Heat run Allen off screens, the process is far different than the one Doc Rivers preferred in Boston. Those possessions were risky, time-consuming exercises. If they didn’t work, and Allen didn’t get free, the Celtics left themselves with no efficient secondary option, resulting in a low-percentage jumper from whomever had the ball (usually Rajon Rondo).
Instead, Allen’s off-screen action with the Heat is quick and to the point.
Here’s an incredibly simple play out of the league’s widely used “horns” set. After Bosh receives the ball at the elbow, Battier sets a pindown screen for Allen as Cole does the same for Miller on the opposite side. The result is a another wide-open attempt.
The Heat are equipped with three All-Stars in their primes—one of them being the best player in the world—so it’s not the biggest shock to see Allen’s shot attempts go down while surrounded by players with superior offensive ability.
What is surprising, however, is the Heat coaching staff’s recognition of the Celtics’ mistakes, and their ability to amend those mistakes and maximize Allen’s efficiency in spite of his aging legs. The Celtics may not have had the players to use Allen any differently than what they did, but through the season’s first 30 games it’s no mystery as to why Allen chose Miami.