Into the Spidaverse: Bec Allen’s Length Stretches Liberty’s Defense

Bec Allen crouches at half court, arms spread wide. She waits for Kelsey Mitchell, the WNBA’s third leading scorer, but Mitchell gives the ball up as soon as she crosses the timeline. The Indiana Fever run their star guard through a couple of screens to get some space between her and Allen. With the lane vacant, Mitchell drives right, getting some downhill momentum before re-engaging with Allen. Instead of shielding the ball with her body, Mitchell goes with her strong hand—her left—in an attempt to quickly sneak the shot up and onto the backboard. But Allen is ready, with Mitchell stride for stride, her left hand raising in perfect sync. As soon as the basketball leaves Mitchell’s hand, it meets Allen’s, who swats it harmlessly out of bounds.

 

 

In that June 1 game, Mitchell would make just five-of-16 shots, a dozen percentage points below her season average. The Liberty snapped their seven-game losing streak that night, overcoming a deficit and pulling away in the fourth to secure a 13-point win. Allen finished with a team-best +28 +/- on the night.

 

The Strength of Length

Allen stands 6’2”, but her reach is 6’5”. It’s where Allen’s nickname—Spida—originates. “It’s what I have been gifted to me: my long arms,” Allen told Winsidr. “I don’t always need to be super close to someone to have that reach on them and have that advantage, so I try to use my arms as best as I can.”

Twice last season, those long arms helped to secure victories for the Liberty. First, on June 13, Allen stole the ball from Skylar Diggins-Smith in the closing seconds to clinch a win over the Phoenix Mercury. Just a week later, the Liberty white-knuckled a win in their 25th anniversary rematch against the Los Angeles Sparks, when Allen blocked a pair of jumpers, first denying Kristi Toliver then Erica Wheeler.

Allen finished the 2021 season ranked third in the WNBA with 2.84 stocks (steals plus blocks per game), trailing only Sylvia Fowles (3.61) and Breanna Stewart (2.93), according to Across the Timeline. Through her first 10 games this year, Allen has averaged 1.60 stocks, third on the team behind Natasha Howard (2.53) and Han Xu (1.67). Both of these frontcourt players appreciate sharing the court with Allen. 

 

 

“To have somebody that has the same length as me, but as a guard, it’s great. I’m really happy that we got her back this offseason.” Howard took a beat and smiled wide before continuing. “It’s just her presence on the defensive end: I don’t gotta do all the work. I’m happy that Bec’s got my back with that.”

And Han, who has been a revelation thus far in her sophomore campaign, loves playing alongside Allen.

“She has great size for playing the three,” Han told Winsidr. “When there’s a switch, she can still guard because she is bigger for her position. She can easily switch and there isn’t a problem.” 

 

 

Her ability to close out to disrupt shots or steal passes that aren’t thrown carefully enough makes her a menace to opposing teams. Sami Whitcomb is quick to point out that, even though Allen’s length is an asset, it’s her instincts that really separate her as a defender. “It is really helpful, but a lot of people are long and just don’t know how to properly use it. She’s really good at knowing where and when she can really implement and utilize that [strength]. She doesn’t just reach silly. She baits you a little bit, she makes you think you can do something, and then she’s really great at timing that stuff. She’s good at knowing the personnel, at knowing what we want to force people into, and then trying to take away those best looks for them.”

Per Synergy, Allen is holding opponents to just 29.1 percent from the floor, a mark that ranks ninth in the W among players that have defended at least 30 shot attempts. She’s accomplishing that while guarding opponents’ best perimeter players on any given night. 

 

See Also

Trickle-Down Bec-onomics

An indicator of Allen’s effect on team defense, while an imperfect measurement, is defensive rating. To simplify things, the top half of the league is posting a defensive rating below 100, while the bottom half is over that mark. New York posted just one sub-100 game in the four before Allen’s late arrival, but have achieved that mark six times since her activation. 

(A quick note: Allen has played 10 games total now, but her latest three would not fairly represent her defensive impact on the team [and are not included in the table below]. Against the Fever on June 10, fewer than two minutes in, Allen and Victoria Vivians collided chin-to-forehead, and Allen did not return to the contest. On Sunday afternoon, a fatigued Allen would play just seven minutes in the first half before being sidelined; head coach Sandy Brondello said fatigue from Allen’s recent COVID-19 booster made her unavailable. A lingering stomach illness made kept her out of the lineup completely on June 16 against the Mystics.)

 

Bec Allen’s Impact on Team Defense
Number of Games Defensive Rating
First stretch without Bec Allen 4 104.38
With Bec Allen 8 100.01

 

The New York Liberty are next to last in scoring, putting up just 76.6 points a night, so staying locked in on the defensive end is paramount. New York has held opponents below 80 points just six times, and they’ve won five of those contests; the Liberty have lost eight of nine when teams surpass that mark.

Positional versatility is something the Liberty value, though three of their most switchable players—Betnijah Laney, DiDi Richards, and Jocelyn Willoughby—have missed significant time this season. Until they return, the duo of Allen and Howard have shouldered the defensive heavyweights, with the former patrolling the perimeter and the latter protecting the paint. “Defensive focus,” Allen said, “that doesn’t change preparation-wise.” And to that end, Allen said she prepares the same for every single game. Regardless of the next matchup on the calendar, Allen remains disciplined. 

After the Liberty’s largest win of the season, a 19-point victory over the Minnesota Lynx, Allen talked about how the team managed to maintain its defensive intensity even when their lead ballooned to a wide margin early in the second half.

“It’s about how we started the game from the very beginning. We were more physical, we sort of set the tone with that and I’m glad we continued that for all the quarters. You can’t go from being soft to being strong.”

Of late, the Liberty have been showing that grit from the opening tip. With Allen’s long arms, a playoff spot is never too far out of reach.

Unless otherwise noted, stats appear courtesy of WNBA Stats.

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