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Quantitative look at Ray Allen in Spurs’ system

Saturday morning, news came out that the San Antonio Spurs are reportedly interested in signing 39-year old shooting guard Ray Allen, formerly of the Miami Heat. The Spurs’ roster currently carries 14 guaranteed deals, and with the NBA maximum being 15 spots by the start of the regular season, the Spurs also have the options of trying to re-sign restricted free agent Aron Baynes, free agent center Gustavo Ayon, or one of multiple young players with partially guaranteed deals who could battle for that last spot at training camp.

Using the Synergy Sports, NBA.com/stats, and SportVU databases, I’ve put together some charts that show how Allen would have potentially performed with his offensive and defensive skill sets last season. The following is just a quantitative comparison, and it should be known that the offensive and defensive systems the Spurs and Heat use are different, which could be a reason for some separation in the statistics.

Allen’s Offensive Capabilities

First let’s take a look at how Allen scored the basketball last year in comparison to three Spurs players who played minutes at shooting guard – Danny Green, Marco Belinelli, and Manu Ginobili. Below are the five most used scoring possessions from last season, including the playoffs per Synergy.

Screenshot (159)Screenshot (160)As you can see, Allen’s offensive game is very similar to Green and Belinelli’s, as a majority of his scoring possessions last season came off the ball with Spot-Up shooting, getting open off screens, and in transition. Based on Synergy’s metrics, Allen ranked 38th in the NBA in scoring off Spot-Ups, 91st in scoring off-screens, and 76th in scoring in transition. With the way the Spurs run their offense – a lot of movement off the ball, penetrating and kicking, passing multiple times, and by using their big men to set screens for 3-point shooters, Allen shouldn’t have too much trouble adapting to their motion offense.

Being that the Spurs as a team get a majority of their 3-point shots out of Spot-Up, Off-Screens, and Transition shots, I’ve displayed how Allen shot percentage-wise on those shots last season.

Team/Player 3-Point Percentage on Spot-Ups 3-Point Percentage Off-Screens 3-Point Percentage in Transition
Spurs 42% 39% 44%
Allen 40% 34% 43%

The next chart below displays touches and passes per game via the SportVU database. All numbers are only collected from the regular season on average, not the playoffs. I’ve displayed Allen’s numbers to show how he would have fared with Green and Belinelli’s averages.

Screenshot (162)Allen’s data is somewhat of a reflection of the Heat’s offensive system, which relied on heavy amounts of pick-and-rolls, isolations, and post-ups by LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh. Allen’s role based on the data was most likely to deliver the ball to the playmakers on the team that were about to initiate the next action. With Allen’s history as a playmaking guard in his early years with Milwaukee and Seattle, then his stint as a third option with the Boston Celtics, and his last two seasons coming off the bench as the sixth man for the Heat, he’s shown he would likely be able to adapt to the Spurs’ system where guards have a big responsibility in catching passes and moving the ball to the next step in the offense.

Allen’s Defensive Capabilities

The data below shows the Spurs’ perimeter players individual defense when measured by Opponent Points Per Possession (PPP), and I’ve included Allen’s statistics at the end of the chart to show how he would have compared to the Spurs’ perimeter players last season. I used the PPP on Pick-and-roll ball handlers, Spot-Ups, and Isolations, because those are the three types of scoring possessions per Synergy, that perimeter defenders usually see in the NBA most often.

Screenshot (161)When comparing Allen’s numbers to the Spurs’, he finished better than any of the Spurs’ defenders when guarding pick-and-roll ball handlers, just behind Kawhi Leonard when defending isolations, and just slightly better than Tony Parker when defending spot-up possessions. However, though his numbers defensively are impressive, it should be noted that he only had 101 pick-and-roll ball handler possessions in both the regular season and playoffs combined, and he was only put in isolation situations 135 times.

Using the Defensive Rating from NBA.com/stats, which measures how a player defends an opposing team per 100 possessions, Allen wasn’t a top-5 defender on the Heat in either the regular season or playoffs. Of the 10 Heat players who played in over 50 games and averaged over 15 minutes per game in the regular season, Allen finished with a Defensive Rating of 104.1 points per 100 possessions, which ranked 9th of the 10 players, and only better than Michael Beasley. Of the nine Heat players who played in over 15 games and averaged over 12 minutes per game in the playoffs, Allen finished with a Defensive Rating of 108.3 points per 100 possessions, which ranked sixth highest out of the nine players. Allen’s Defensive Rating in the playoffs was better than Mario Chalmers, Bosh, and Shane Battier.

In a defensive system like the Spurs’, Allen would have to guard positions 1-3 on different possessions, and though he’d be challenged to have to guard some pick-and-rolls, post-ups, or isolations, he might still have a solid outing defensively knowing that he’d have players like Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter defending the paint, or even players like Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard flanking the out on the wings.

The Potential Price Tag

Lastly, one might be wondering what Allen’s value on the open market might be. A good measurement to see how much a player is worth is by their win shares via Basketball-Reference.com. I’ve combined the regular season and playoff win shares, and put them next to Allen, and displayed what Allen could be valued at in dollar figures, as well as how much it could be for the Spurs to sign him.

Allen: 5.0 Win Shares (WS) – $4-6 million –Allen is coming off a season where he earned $3.2 million with the Heat, but if he’s chasing another title, it would be understandable to see him sign from anywhere between $2.5-4 million. The Spurs do have the Full Mid-Level Exception worth $5.3 million to use on a free agent, but they’re not the only team in the running for Allen, as Marc Stein of ESPN.com mentioned the Cleveland Cavaliers, Dallas Mavericks, and Los Angeles Clippers are all also interested teams. Also, one must consider what Allen himself might be thinking, does he still want more money in the $2.5-4 million range? Does he feel he can still be a sixth man in the NBA? Maybe even if he comes off the bench, he’d want a consistent role and consistent minutes, something that only happens in the Spurs’ system if Coach Gregg Popovich determines so.

From what the financial outlook looks like for the Cavaliers, Clippers, and Mavericks via BasketballInsiders.com, all three teams are over the cap already, and all three don’t have any exceptions to use – meaning the most they’d likely be able to offer Allen is the veteran minimum. So financially, the Spurs can offer the most money of the four teams in pursuit of his services. As to where Allen fits in a rotation, he has several options. In Cleveland, he’d likely be a sixth man or start, depending on how the Cavaliers plan to use Dion Waiters. In Los Angeles, he’d likely come off the bench in a two shooting guard lineup with Jamal Crawford or J.J. Redick, and on the Mavericks, he’d likely be a sixth man coming off the bench after Monta Ellis.

With San Antonio, there would be a log jam at shooting guard on paper with Green starting, and Ginobili and Belinelli coming off the bench already, however, the Spurs use their guards in more versatile roles on both sides of the ball depending on the situation in the game. Popovich could throw lineups with Allen playing the two or three, while Ginobili and Belinelli can play the one, two, and three, and Green can play the two or three. Meanwhile, Leonard provides the versatility where he too can slide up to the four in a small ball lineup.

As Allen recently said, he may even take until September to make his decision if he even wants to continue playing in the NBA or retire, but if did decide to continue playing and chose San Antonio, numbers and data show he’d be a productive fit on both sides of the floor with the silver and black.

Paul Garcia

About Paul Garcia

Paul is a San Antonio Spurs credentialed media member for Project Spurs. He covered the 2013 NBA All-Star Game in Houston, TX, and the 2013 and 2014 NBA Finals. Paul has been featured on WOAI, Fox 29, and numerous nationwide radio shows.

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