Ray Allen was one of the best outside shooters in NBA history who won two titles later in his career with the Celtics and the Heat. Before that, he was a great slasher and big-time scorer for the Sonics and Bucks. Allen was not noted for great defense but he played his best defense for the title-winning teams.
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How good was Ray Allen’s career?
Ray Allen was chosen 5th overall in the 1996 NBA draft after three strong years at the University of Connecticut. He was traded on draft night to the Milwaukee Bucks where he got his start in the NBA. Jesus Shuttlesworth was ready for the league and averaged nearly 20 points per game in only his second season in the NBA.
Allen quickly became a star for those Bucks teams. When paired with Glenn Robinson and Sam Cassell, he lead the team to the Conference Finals in 2001. Ray Allen averaged over 20 ppg for the Bucks in four straight years.
The Conference Finals, however, was the plateau for that Bucks squad and Allen was sent to the Seattle Supersonics in a trade for Gary Payton.
In Seattle, Allen put up crazy numbers. Allen maxed out his NBA scoring in the 2006-2007 season for the Supersonics, averaging more than 26 ppg. Allen put up career highs during his Sonics years in rebounds and assists with highs of just below 6 assists per game and 5.5 rebounds.
Despite being the centerpiece of their offense, Allen was understandably upset at the inability of his teams to win. He was traded to the Boston Celtics in exchange for a package that featured the fifth pick in the NBA draft.
In Boston Allen famously joined with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to make a big three that would go on to win him his first championship in 2008. Allen was a key piece of that championship squad providing shooting and some of the best defense of his career.
Allen left the Celtics after one more run to the Finals that came up short vs Kobe’s Lakers. He would sign with the Heat after becoming disenchanted with Boston.
In the 2013 NBA Finals, Ray Allen made one of the best plays of his career by hitting one of the most iconic shots in NBA history. The Lebron-led Heat trailed by 3.
Tim Duncan was out of the game. When Lebron missed a 3 pointer to tie it, the absence of the Big Fundamental allowed CB4 to grab a rebound and kick it out to a retreating Allen. The rest was history as the Heat went on to win the game and the title.
The next year Allen would become more of a role player and he retired after that season.
Allen retired with considerable honors in addition to his 2 championships. Allen was a 10x NBA All Star, made the 2nd and 3rd All-NBA teams once each and was named to the NBA 75th Anniversary Team in 2021. Ray was named to the basketball Hall of Fame in 2018.
He also held the NBA record for career record for 3 pointers made until last night when Steph Curry broke it.
How Good Was Ray Allen on Offense?
Ray Allen was no doubt a great shooter – one of the best in the history of the game. He shot 40% from three for his career on 5.7 attempts per game. As I mentioned above, he held the three point record for more than ten years.
He shot a tick below 90% from the line for his career. I watched a lot of the games he played for the Celtics and felt like he was as close to a sure thing from the line as anyone I have ever watched. You were genuinely surprised when he missed.
But Ray Allen was more than just a great shooter. He was a true slasher and high scoring wing for much of his career. For the Sonics, and mostly for the Bucks too, he was the center of their offense. He got to the rim and put down some fierce dunks.
I am not saying he was Vince Carter, but here he is putting it down on Vince’s Cousin.
Before Boston and Miami, Ray Allen did more offensively than just shoot lights out. He could create his own shot off the dribble, passed well, could get to the rim, was a great mid-range shooter AND was a stone killer from three.
In the comparisons to Kobe and Vince, he looks pretty good. They both have more assists, but Ray averaged 5.5 assists one year in Seattle. He could absolutely pass in his prime.
Obviously, he was the best shooter in this strong group of shooters and Ray didn’t turn it over more than the other two wings either.
The real surprise for me is in the stats that try to account for a player’s offense as a whole: offensive rating and box plus/minus. These are hardly the only two stats of this type – but they are widely used and generally respected, even with some experts noting their limits.
Ray has a great offensive rating – standing out even over Kobe. The box plus/minus shifts in favor of Kobe with both players above Vinsanity in each category.
Splitting with Kobe, and besting Vince Carter, on the big stats while being competitive in the other stats speaks volumes about Allen as an offensive player.
Ray was an offensive star. He was not quite Kobe, who was a killer and was often the best shooting guard in the league. Ray was never that.
But at his offensive peak, he was not too far behind the very best in the league in terms of offense. He could do it all on that end: shoot, slash, pass, and score at a very high level.
How Good Was Ray Allen on Defense?
Ray Allen’s defense was a different story. I wrote a whole article about it here. My conclusion in that article is the same one I’ll make here: Ray Allen was not very good on defense in any consistent way throughout his career.
I was fooled by Sugar Ray. As a Boston Celtics fan, I watched more of Ray Allen’s Celtics games than I did the rest of his career combined. And I was pretty busy back then, so I watched as many regular season games as I could, but saw every playoff game.
Watching those playoff runs, I saw Ray Allen play the best defense of his career by a mile.
I saw peak Ray Allen defense and thought it was indicative of who he was in his career. But his years in Boston were his best defensive years statistically and the playoffs were the best of those years.
The rest of his career was not the same on defense. His career stats, as you can see above, were rather mundane. Brandon Roy didn’t play much D at all and you’ll notice his numbers look pretty similar to Ray’s.
Heck,T-Mac didn’t play too much defense either, and his numbers look like Michael Jordan’s next to Ray’s. I didn’t put Kobe here, because that would be silly.
If you click through to my McGrady post, you’ll see that Kobe’s numbers are actually pretty similar to T-Mac’s. But Kobe, despite likely being overrated on defense, was clearly better than both T-Mac and, obviously, Ray Allen.
The Celtics years show that a motivated Ray Allen could be a pretty good defender. It didn’t hurt that he was surrounded by a great defensive team including the Big Ticket, one of the best team defenders to ever play.
You can no more judge Ray on his best defensive years than you can say his two best offensive years are who he was on offense. When you look at the total of his career, Ray Allen was not a great defender.
Allen had physical limits: he was not very strong for the NBA, had only good length for his position and did not possess great lateral quickness for the league. And he was the offensive star for his teams for many years. In that role, like so many others, he coasted a bit on defense.
How Good Was Ray Allen overall?
All three of these advanced stats, player efficiency rating (PER), win shares and box plus/minus, are designed to measure how much a player contributes to their team overall.
No single stat can really do that. Using all three probably gives us a better shot than relying on only one. But there are still limits to how much any one number can tell us.
Even with those caveats, I still think it is instructive to look at the numbers, and helpful to compare players to others at their positions from their general eras.
When we look at Ray Allen’s we see what I expected to see. Ray Allen was not Kobe Bryant. No one who watched the league back then thought so and the numbers don’t either.
And Tracy McGrady, who led the league in scoring at one point and was almost certainly a better defensive player than Allen too, was at another level. The win shares is in Allen’s favor and if you want to criticize McGrady, winning is where you’d go. He never won a playoff series.
But I’ll happily stand by the claim that McGrady was better. If you put a slightly-past peak T-Mac on that Celtics squad with Pierce and KG, I am thinking they’d have done okay.
But not being one of the best players to ever live, or one of the most freakishly talented in McGrady’s case, is no indictment on Ray Allen.
He was great. He was a star shooting guard who was one of the best shooters to ever play the game. He was a high scoring wing in his prime who could slash and finish. And he transitioned later in his career to being a secondary scorer who played more defense and hit big shots to help his team win.
Ray Allen’s numbers are nearly tied with Vince Carter’s but I’d take Ray. They both could shoot and score. Vinsanity could dunk better (than Ray and nearly anyone else to ever play). But Ray won and hit crazy-big shots.
Ray Allen was never quite at the best-player-in-the-league level or really even in that conversation. But he was still a great, winning player who deserves his Hall of Fame enshrinement.
Ray Allen was one of the best shooters to ever play in the NBA. He was a great scorer for most of his career but took on a secondary scoring role later in his career to help the Celtics and Heat win titles. Allen hit huge shots for those teams and played the best defense of his career for them as well.
I have been a Boston sports fan for more than forty years. I write about games, players and seasons from the past.