Ray Allen was a great shooter but for most of his career he was a poor defender. When Allen played for the Celtics with stronger defenders like Kevin Garnett, he provided more serviceable defense especially in the playoffs. But both before and after his days in Boston, Ray Allen was weak defensively.
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Ray Allen on Defense: Stats
One way to cut through hazy memories and get to the truth about NBA players’ careers is to look at the advanced statistics for their whole career. Not only are the stats unbiased, but they also give a full look at a player’s career and not just the best 2-3 years.
Those years were his best defensive years. And, because I was busy a lot in those years, I did not watch nearly as many regular season games in those days as I have in many other years. But I watched every second of those playoff runs.
My impression of Ray Allen’s defense was that he was okay and maybe even pretty good when motivated. But not only were the defensively-strong Celtics teams Allen’s best defensive years, the playoffs were by far his best efforts of those years.
My perception of Allen’s defense is very much not in line with what stats show for his full career.
Basketball Reference lists five defensive statistics in its advanced statistics section. They also list defensive rating in their per 100 stats, which attempts to measure a player’s defensive effectiveness per 100 possessions.
In Ray Allen’s case, the numbers tell a much different story than my memories did. Ray Allen was not a good defender. His career stats are quite poor.
Individual Skill Defensive StatsEmbed from Getty Images
Ray Allen was a 6’5’’ shooting guard. You would not expect him to dominate the defensive glass. He did not. His career rebounding percentage of 10.2% is low but not ridiculous.
One area where a shooting guard/wing who is a good defender will often stand out is steals and blocks. Good defenders will get their hands on a lot of balls. You won’t be surprised to find out Ray Allen did not.
A guard is not going to block shots like Dikembe Mutombo, but Ray Allen’s block percentage of .4% is truly awful. John Stockton at 6’0” was too little to block NBA shots. But even he had a .5% career block percentage! That is correct: John Stockton was better at blocking shots than Ray Allen.
Ray Allen was 6’5”. He should have occasionally gotten his hands on a shot, but he almost never did! He also did not get his hands on many passes or dribbles.
Allen’s career steal percentage of 1.7% was also low and not indicative of a strong defender. Individually, Ray Allen’s career defensive stats look we
Overall advanced defensive statistics
Some stats try to capture the big picture of a player’s offense or defense. Defensive rating is one of those. It essentially measures how many baskets a player gives up per 100 possessions.
Sugar Ray finished with a career rating of 108. That is not good. He does not rank in the all time top 250 NBA players.
Defensive box plus/minus is an estimate of how many points a player gave up per possession when compared to a league average player & team. Allen’s -.7 rating is really bad!
Steve Kerr, like Allen a great shooter, had a .32 defensive box plus/minus. Kerr was at least two inches shorter than Ray and was no freak athlete. But his plus/minus was at least positive.
Defensive win shares is a complicated stat that attempts to measure how much a player contributes to his team while on the floor. This is Ray Allen’s only positive career defensive statistic.
He finished with 33.4 career defensive win shares and is ranked 167th all time.
While that ranking seems high, and the top twenty in defensive win shares are nearly all excellent defenders, long careers tend to give a player more win shares.
Dominique Wilkins is a good example here. He had a reputation as a bad defender and his stats are very poor as well. The only stat he ranks highly in for defense is win shares where he ranked 147th, 20 spots ahead of Ray Allen. Long careers help players rank up the defensive win shares, even if they are not great on D.
Ray Allen’s career defensive statistics make a compelling case that he was not good on defense. His individual skill stats and big-picture rankings all point to a weak defender who contributed mainly on offense.
How does Ray Alllen on Defense Compare to Other Stars?
Ray Allen does not compare very favorably with the other star wings of his era on defense. While I have written that Kobe Bryant is quite overrated on defense, he has the strongest reputation of this group by far.
He was almost certainly the best defender of them as well. Just because I think was overrated on defense, does not mean I think he was bad. Vince and Tracy, however may be a different story.
I believe Ray’s peak on defense with the Celtics was probably better than what Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady played consistently in their careers. But it also is probably not fair to compare one guy’s peak to other guys’ averages.
When you compare apples to apples, the numbers say Ray Allen was the worst defender in this group.
Did people think Ray Allen was a good defender while he was playing?Embed from Getty Images
In general, people did not think Jesus Shuttlesorth was a good defender. He was viewed mainly as a guy who was not really focused on defense.
Sugar Ray did not have the lateral quickness to stick with the outlier athletes of the NBA. He also lacked strength by NBA standards and the combination left him limited trying to defend NBA wings. When combined with his lack of great effort on D, Allen never performed particularly well on that end.
Shooting was his meal ticket and for a lot of his years in Milwaukee and Seattle, he was the main offensive force for his teams. He used his energy on offense and coasted on the defensive end.
That perception held true throughout nearly all of his career. But what was I seeing in Boston? I thought he was pretty good.
His Boston years were his best defensively. Allen’s big picture defensive stats – defensive win shares, defensive box plus/minus and defensive rating, all had their best multi-year stretches during his Boston years.
In the Celtics 2008 Championship run, the team gave up nearly 9 fewer points per 100 possessions during the playoffs with Allen on the court than they did with him off of it.
That speaks to Allen being a positive force like I remember for those playoff teams. It is very likely that Allen gave his best efforts during games, and, at his absolute best, he was a reasonably good defender.
But it also speaks to small sample sizes. For the regular season, that 2008 team was considerably better defensively with Allen on the bench. And for his career, Allen was considerably better during his Celtics seasons than at any other time.
The Ray Allen of the 2008 playoff run could defend well enough. But he could not sustain that kind of performance over a whole season. And throughout most of his career he simply did not give enough effort on defense to make up for his shortcomings on D.
By the time he got to Miami, he had lost more quickness and really struggled on defense. But he might have made a pretty big shot or two for the Heat.Embed from Getty Images
Allen never received much consideration for all-NBA defense and never won any defensive awards in his career. That seems about right.
Summary: Ray Allen on Defense
Ray Allen was a pure sniper on offense who missed the mark defensively. His years in Boston were his peak defensive years, but, even then, he was mostly good only in the playoffs. Outside of that brief period, Allen was a poor defender with weak stats who never really pushed himself on D.
I have been a Boston sports fan for more than forty years. I write about games, players and seasons from the past.