HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — With four minutes to go in the third quarter of the Miami Heat’s 94-80 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday, LeBron James caught the ball at the high post and ran a pick-and-roll with Chris Bosh.
Bosh rolled to the basket and Jamal Crawford, who was guarding Ray Allen in the left corner, took a step toward the paint. Allen drifted up toward the wing, James hit him with a jump pass, and Crawford couldn’t recover in time. So Allen calmly stroked his third 3-pointer of the night.
That was when the realization hit you. Ray Allen, the most prolific 3-point shooter in NBA history, is on the same team as LeBron James, the best player in the world.
It’s not just that Allen is a great shooter. It’s also that no one moves without the ball better than he does. He runs you off screens, reads the defense, and finds his spots. Take your eye off him for one second, and you’re left hoping that his shot is off the mark.
And it’s not just that James is the best player in the world. It’s also that he’s a brilliant and very willing passer. He reads defenses just as well and is able to find open teammates whenever an extra defender looks to help on the ball.
So, while you’re not going to put Allen ahead of Dwyane Wade in your shooting guard rankings, he is a more natural fit with James. And of course, three points are more than two.
Ethan Skolnick of The Palm Beach Post wrote yesterday about the on-court relationship between James and Allen…
While Dwyane Wade, rehabilitating at a measured pace from minor knee surgery, is expected to play a few minutes and potentially even start at off guard, Allen is likely to get some time with LeBron James and some of the other starters.
That was the case Sunday in Atlanta, and there were some sequences late in the first quarter when James and Allen started showing some initial scary signs of of symbiosis, assisting on each other’s baskets on subsequent possessions.
Each has promised that it shouldn’t take long to hone their connection, with James noting the distinction between the arduous road to assimilation with the more similarly skilled Wade and this smoother one with the more complementary Allen.
“It’s a little different for me playing with a new teammate when he does something different than what (I) do,” James said. “When I’ve added shooters or guys like Ray in the past, I’ve been able to adjust to that. Because I know where they are, I know where they like the ball, and I’m able to feed off them.”
The idea is that James and Allen make each other better. James gets Allen more open looks, and Allen gives James more space to drive or post up. Simple concept.
But interestingly, in his two seasons with the Heat, James’ teammates have shot better from 3-point range when he was off the floor.
LeBron James’ teammates 3-point shooting, last two seasons
|James on/off floor||3PM||3PA||3P%|
Those are regular season numbers though, and the playoffs have been a different story, especially last season. On the road to his first championship, James became a different player, getting to the paint more often than he ever had. In the 2012 Playoffs, more than 54 percent of his shots came from the paint, a big jump from any season or postseason he’s ever played.
LeBron James shooting in the paint
|2003-04 Reg. season||376||724||51.9%||48.5%|
|2004-05 Reg. season||469||773||60.7%||45.9%|
|2005-06 Reg. season||506||814||62.2%||44.7%|
|2006-07 Reg. season||470||731||64.3%||45.1%|
|2007-08 Reg. season||496||775||64.0%||47.2%|
|2008-09 Reg. season||464||705||65.8%||43.7%|
|2009-10 Reg. season||451||657||68.6%||43.0%|
|2010-11 Reg. season||449||719||62.4%||48.4%|
|2011-12 Reg. season||379||576||65.8%||49.3%|
%FGA = Percentage of total field goal attempts
Early in the first round, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra talked about the “symbiotic relationship” between his team’s attackers and shooters. And he turned out to be quite prophetic.
In the 2012 postseason, James’ teammates shot 122-for-307 (39.7 percent) from 3-point range when he was on the floor. When he was on the bench, they shot an ugly 13-for-60 (21.7 percent) from beyond the arc.
Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers were the primary beneficiaries of James’ presence. Each shot better than 40 percent from beyond the arc with James on the floor, and they combined to shoot a putrid 3-for-32 on threes when the MVP was on the bench.
It remains to be seen if James can play an entire season like he played last year’s playoffs. He’s the league’s best player either way, but if he continues to attack the paint and limit his own jumpers, he’ll create more open ones for his teammates.
And Ray Allen is a guy who knows how to take advantage of some extra space.