Post-game Reactions

Picture 3I’m obsessed with the fact that line-ups featuring three or four bench players and Ray Allen have drastically out-performed line-ups featuring three or four back-ups and Paul Pierce since Allen arrived in Boston. The trend is holding true again this season; the line-up of Ray-Sheed-House-Daniels-Williams (the second most-often used line-up of the season for Boston) is scoring 127 points per 100 possessions and allowing just 93 in 72 minutes of play, according to 82games.com.

The same four back-ups with Pierce (the 4th most-often used line-up) has scored just 101 points per 100 possessions and allowed 116 in 57 minutes together.

To put those numbers in context: The C’s average about 110 points per 100 possessions and allow about 100; the Ray line-up is performing well above average on both sides of the ball.

The trend was similar (though less pronounced) last season.

So does Ray Allen possess that most unique basketball trait—the ability to make others around him better? If he does, shouldn’t that have a huge bearing on the decision (which isn’t being discussed in reality but is in blog comments) of whether to dangle Ray’s expiring deal at the trade deadline?

It’s far from a final conclusion, but there are strong indications that Ray indeed possesses this magical skill. I went back into Ray’s three final seasons with Seattle to see if the same trend was borne out, and though the data is shaky, it definitely leans toward confirming that Ray has some ability to carry line-ups populated with back-ups.

The five players who started the most games for the ’07 Sonics were Allen, Rashard Lewis, Chris Wilcox, Luke Ridnour and Nick Collison. I wanted to look at line-ups composed of four back-ups and Ray, but Bob Hill (Seattle’s coach that season) did not favor this substitution pattern; instead, he mixed starters and back-ups a bit more liberally than Doc Rivers has.

So I looked at line-ups in which Ray played with two or fewer starters. Ray played at least 48 minutes with five such line-ups, according to 82games.com. (They are line-ups #3, 5, 6, 8 and 10 on that page).

Two of those line-ups had positive plus/minus numbers for the season (+22 and +6), two had close to neutral negative plus/minus numbers (-2 and -3) and one bombed (-18).

This is probably not enough to make any definitive conclusions, though it’s worth noting that the two line-ups that got by far the most playing time among these five both outperformed the starting line-up offensively in terms of points per minute and put up the positive plus/minus stats.

The 2005-06 Sonics gave at least 20 starts to eight different players, so it’s difficult to separate the back-ups from the starters.

The 2004-05 Sonics are a cleaner case, since five players (Allen, Ridnour, Lewis, Reggie Evans and Jerome James) started at least 71 games.

Lucky for us, Allen played heavy minutes with two line-ups featuring just one other starter and a single line-up featuring Ray and four back-ups.

And guess what? All three of these line-ups significantly outperformed the Sonics starters and blew opponents away offensively, according to 82games. (The line-ups in question are numbers 3, 4 and 7).

Specifically, the starting line-up for Seattle that season was +28 in 789 minutes and scored 1.9 points per minute.

And the three Ray/back-up units in question did this:

The line-up of Allen-Lewis-Vlad Radmanovic-Danny Fortson-Antonio Daniels was +46 in 160 minutesand scored 2.35 points per minute.

The line-up of Allen-Daniels-Vlad Rad-Fortson-Collison (Ray plus four subs) was +56 in 147 minutes andscored 2.2 points per minute.

The line-up of Allen-Daniels-Lewis-Vlad Rad-Collins was +46 in 86 minutes and scored 2.9 points per minute.

So there’s no question that in this season—plus the last two with Boston—something good happened when Ray played with the back-ups.

Is this a definitive conclusion? No. More research is still necessary, though the stats clearly lean one way.

But I wanted to do one more thing. I saw this post on The New York Times’ Off the Dribble blog by Jon Nichols (of basketball-statistics.com and occasionally Orlando Pinstriped Post) showing how Kobe Bryant and LeBron James impact the shooting percentages of their teammates. Nichols wanted to know this: Does being on the court with Kobe or LeBron get teammates better looks, which result in better shooting percentages? (Short answer: Yes).

I asked Nichols if he could pull out similar data for Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, and he was kind enough to do so. The results are below (The positive and negative percentages represent the difference between the players’ collective overall field-goal percentages and their FG % while playing with Ray or Pierce).

First, the last three seasons of data for Ray Allen:

Picture 8

Only one significant negative number on the entire chart (mid-range shots this season), with the rest positive—and especially huge numbers for close shots the last two seasons. In an email, Nichols tells me it’s “no small feat” for any player to have positive numbers across the board in any season. (Kobe and LeBron each did it once in the three seasons Nichols analyzed).

Now the numbers for Pierce:

Picture 9

The numbers aren’t nearly as good for the captain. I’d caution against reading too much into these numbers, since they swing pretty wildly from year to year. But the pattern is there, and it probably goes a long way toward explaining why Allen/back-up units have consistently produced better numbers than Pierce/back-up units.

Of course, this doesn’t explain why teammates shoot better with Ray Allen on the court. Does his outside shooting draw more attention from the defense than Pierce’s herky-jerky isolation game? Does Ray create inside shots for the C’s back-up bigs because opposing big men have to jump out on Ray’s classic baseline-to-foul line curl cuts?

Is Ray just a more natural passer?

I have no clue. This is mystical basketball stuff—the ability to make others better.

And it’s definitely something to consider if you are one of the proponents of trading Ray Allen.

(Update: And Jeff Clark at CelticsBlog says now is not the right time to deal Ray. Agreed).

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Zach Lowe

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  • Tebucky

    There is definitely a correlation between 3PT% and the resulting teammates Close %, reflected this year with Paul shooting 47% from deep. In general it makes sense that the ball movement needed to get Ray his shots would create easier opportunities for his teammates than Pierce’s isolation-oriented offense.

  • dont_drink_the_koolaid

    very interesting post and numbers.

    my laymans opinion: ray busts his butt every single play of every game (never lets up on any ‘meaningless’ offball cut, never spends a D possession complaining to refs on the O end, never misses a fastbreak cause he is pounding his chest on D, doesn’t fatigue late in games due to flawlesss conditioning, respectful to refs so gets the benefit of the doubt, doesn’t make metal errors because he is always focused and thinking ahead, etc, etc)…over time, that creates small advantages that show up in (new) numbers.

    And I’m not dogging Pierce. I beleive in the truth. Just that Ray takes all the small things to the next level…. obsessive complusive in terms of pride in the details.

  • Ross in Maine

    Fasinating ‘mythical basketball’ stuff! Great numbers. I would have to agree 100% with what Koolaid writes: the greatness here is in the details … I wear #34, but Ray clearly has the edge here. Great Job Zach and Nichols on spotting these deep trends, judging by the amount of time we’re seeing Ray on the floor with the second unit, Doc has seen this too.

    here’s to a Healthy Ray. I”d love nothing more than to see him retire with the C’s … in 2014!

  • Cptn Bubbles

    Nice work! Ray is a much better passer than what I originally thought. Maybe Rondo has had some influence, but I’ve noticed his bounce passes to bigs are extra sweet. I’ve seen people rush to Ray & close out on him harder since he has that status of shooter. This over play allows him to drive (which he is doing more) or pass to the open man. He drew in the D at Orlando than passed from his foul line jumper to Sheed for a hollering dunk. I think Ray takes advantage of the simple play instead of trying to get too cute or flashy. He is not yelling for the ball or grumbling to the press. He actually is very good about giving interviews to the press. He has poise on the court, and I think the other guys feel that. I’ve seen him talking to the other guys more after plays so he does try to help them.

    Above all, Ray seems to have good character. You see him giving back all the time & actually showing up to charity events. Part of his character is to come early & work hard. Don’t you all think he works harder than any other C ? You can get flashy young players who do play hard on the offensive end, but to give up Ray Ray would be really stupid. Ray brings a lot to the table & is a player you love coaching/having. He sets a good example, & his work ethic is legendary. I hope Danny does not have the grass is always greener syndrome. Sometimes Danny looks the most brilliant for doing nothing…

    It is hard to explain, but some players play much better together than others. I’m not sure that putting your 5 most talented players together is necessarily the best line up. Every guy has his own game, & it can either complement or complicate the other guy’s game. Some guys anticipate each other well & give better help on D. The challenge for Doc is to at least TRY TRY TRY different combinations without being scared of the results. What if your best starting line up meant putting 1 or 2 current starters on the bench? There is way too much emphasis on the status of being a starter. What if playing Ray with the 2nd unit meant more shots/better chemistry for Ray & them? What if they absolutely beat down other benches & got the lead or increased the lead significantly? What if the bench was playing so hard, clicking, that you kept them in there & sort of made the starters the bench for that game? Would that be evil & wrong? Could the starters handle it as long as the team won???

    It’s just wrong if any player is so sensitive that he can’t give up a starting spot if he can do even more good on the 2nd team. Luke Walton gave up his starting role telling Phil Jackson that Ariza needed to be starting—and he was right! But that is what the coach is supposed to see & realize & act upon or experiment with. Phil missed that one, but he did get it right with Odom. Odom started playing off the bench, & the other team’s benches had no answer for him. Odom would dominate & LA would get the lead or pad it. It seemed like Odom should be a starter, but he was actually doing more good / changing games with the 2nd team.

    I just don’t like, “we’ve always done it that way. we’ve always started these 5….” You can say these are my best 5 players, but that does not mean they will play well together. Sometimes you need someone with very little offense, a Rodman, to rebound & play D & do the dirty work. Maybe coaches are scared of getting players mad at them, but they should always be creative & experimenting to see if something works better. I think holding KG out & keeping him really fresh to finish games so he can give you maximum energy/effort in the final 5 minutes is key. He can execute, hit free throws, & when he is fresh, he will be relentless on defense. But if you are fixated on KG playing this many minutes in a row & with these specific players & you wear him out, don’t expect his best at the end of games when you need him the most.

  • oiu

    Interesting points. Maybe this means that Ray would make a better sixth man than he does a starter (or at least a pseudo sixth man.) In the case of Tony Allen he appears to play better as a starter than he does coming off from the bench. Plugging TA in with the starters where he can get incidental offense, and play disruptive defense might actually make the team better. Also, Ray’s minutes are higher than what I think Doc would want, but this is probably due to the need to play Ray so heavily with the bench players.

  • Garron

    Note that Doc always plays those lineups to mirror an opposing team bench. What I feel, is that it takes a very specialized defender to defend Ray, where as Pierce, though not easily defended, can be defended by more types of defenders with less scouting reports to do so. What this does mean, at least in my opinion, is that Ray just kills the opposing bench players.

  • dont_drink_the_koolaid

    +1 @bubbles, @oiu

    ray off the bench is something i ‘d like to see doc experiment with (still keeping his total minutes the same). i’d love to see the gardebn fire up when he pops up to enter. not sure if i’d want TA in the starter role….thought marquis might be a candidate if/when healthy.