Ray Allen is having the kind of season that pure shooters dream about, only better. At 36 years old and in the middle of a lockout-shortened and condensed season, Allen is shooting a career-high 49.6% from the field. He’s shooting 51.5% from three, also a career high. His free throw percentage is, as usual, above 90%. Add it all up and you get 15.2 points on 10.9 shots per game with a 62.3 eFG%Â and aÂ 65.6 TS%. Individually, he’s playing his role on the Celtics about as perfectly as it can be played. What can’t be overlooked though, is how much help he’s getting from his teammates, who are doing an exceptional job putting him in a position to succeed on offense.
Allen has what some people like to call “in-the-gym” range. As in, if he’s in the gym; he’s in range. That, combined with his lightning-quick release make him nearly impossible to stop when he gets going; all he needs is a smidgen of separation and he fires up a swish. His teammates, namely Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Jermaine O’Neal, do a great job of creating that separation for him. There’s a reason that 139 of his 228 field goals attempted (60.9%) and 73 of his 113 field goals made (64.6%) have come after 0 dribbles; he’s always open.
The Celtics’ ability to create open looks for him is a big reason why he’s been assisted on a career-high 81.7% of his field goals according to HoopData, continuing the upward trend that started when he came to Boston 5 seasons ago. His percentage of assisted baskets has risen every season since he’s become a Celtic, from from 64.5 in 2008, to 69.3% on 2009, 72.8% in 2010, 74.0% in 2011 and 81.7% this year.
Allow for a slight digression here; Allen has really struggled when he’s tried to create his own offense this season. Isolations, post-ups and plays where he is the pick-and-roll ball-handler this season have accounted for 17.4% of Allen’s possessions according to mySynergySportsÂ and he’s shot just 28.5% on those plays. These are plays that often call for him to create for himself, and he hasn’t been very successful. For the season, he’s shooting just 34.5% on field goals where he has taken 3 or more dribbles before shooting. Conversely, he’s shooting 52.8% when he takes 2 dribbles or less. So letting his teammates get him open shots is a really good strategy for him. End of digression.
The primary way the Celtics get Allen open is by running him off screens, sometimes two or three times on the same possession. Coming off screens accounts for 36% of Allen’s possessions.
A staple for the Celtics involves Allen starting the play in the corner, getting a back screen (or two, or three)Â along the baseline and materializing in the opposite corner for a wide open three. It’s a simple, effective way to get a knockdown shooter a free look.
Another play has Allen start on the block and come off a down-screen, flaring it into the corner. The corner is Allen’s sweet-spot, and the Celtics often work to get him open looks from that spot.
The Celtics also set screens for Allen even when he’s not involved in the primary action. Sometimes they’ll have Rajon Rondo or Paul Pierce run a pick-and-roll as the primary action at the top of the key with Allen making a V-cut toward the top of the key and then getting a back-screen as he makes his way to the corner.
Allen’s active off the ball movement, Garnett and O’Neal’s picture-perfect (or extremely dirty) screens and Rondo and Pierce’s pin-point passing have led to lots of open shots and it has come together to produce 1.13 Points Per Possession (PPP) off screens for Allen, which places him 5th in the league.
The Celtics also like to have Allen spot-up off the ball when the primary action is a pick-and-roll or isolation for Rondo or Pierce. They’ll station Allen in the corner in order to space the floor, and if the defense collapses on Rondo or Pierce on the drive, they simple kick it out to Allen for a three. Spot-ups account for 19.6% of Allen’s possessions.
The scoring threat of Paul Pierce off the dribble and Kevin Garnett as a roll man often opens up the court for Allen to camp out along the three-point line. He’s been able to capitalize on the space created for him by shooting 49% on spot-ups and registering 1.29 PPP, good for 15th in the NBA. He’s made 18 of 38 spot-up threes, a 47.4% clip.
Another way Allen finds openings is in transition. He usually does this in one of two ways: he’ll either run directly to a spot on the floor while Rajon Rondo pushes the ball in transition and wait for a pass, or he’ll trail Rondo and come around behind him for a hand-off. Transition opportunities have accounted for 16.5% of Allen’s possessions.
The chaos often created in transition and Rondo’s (and to a lesser extent, Pierce’s) ability and willingness to find Allen wherever he is on the break have coalesced into a ridiculous 1.37 PPP in transition for Allen, 18th in the NBA. He’s shooting 65.7% in transition and has made 11 of 22 transition threes.
These three plays account for 72.1% of Allen’s possessions, and he’s shooting 53.2% on them. If you want to know why he’s been so successful shooting the ball, you really don’t have to look much further.