Every step of Avery Bradley's NBA career to date has been muddled, making it only fitting that the Boston Celtics elected to complicate their depth chart just as Bradley began to make his claim as a rotation regular. In their defense, Bradley's shoulder injury—and subsequent surgery—left them little choice; as much as Celtics head coach Doc Rivers has come to appreciate Bradley's on-court impact, Boston desperately needed to fortify both wing positions both to survive Bradley's injury and thrive thereafter.
Until Bradley returns, things should prove to be relatively simple. Courtney Lee is currently slotted to start alongside Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce while Jason Terry (and Jeff Green) come off the pine. The minutes among a rotation of that size are relatively easy to manage and particularly so when Rivers will be looking to conserve Pierce's legs at every opportunity.
But finding room for Bradley does create a bit of a playing time jam, albeit one that can be resolved by snipping minutes in the right places and finding the most productive on-court combinations. Those two considerations are absolutely related, and though one player or another is certain to get fewer minutes than he'd like, the bigger concern for Rivers is finding out how to best utilize Bradley to maximize the talents of the guard rotation and the Celtics on the whole. With that aim in mind, here's an early look at how Bradley fits in alongside the Celtics' other prominent guards and how those relationships should go about determining his role and playing time for Boston this season:
Playing with Rajon Rondo
Rondo isn't only the most proven running mate for Bradley but he's also the backcourt partner to offer the most mutual benefit. Any smart and skilled offensive player sharing the floor with Rondo stands to gain from the Celtic point guard's bewildering passing ability, and though Bradley doesn't have the shooting range to fully benefit from such playmaking, his sharp cuts to the rim frequently put him in positions to score. Bradley can handle the ball in a pinch, but this is an optimal situation for him; by working the backdoor and allowing a teammate to initiate the offense, Bradley minimizes one of his more glaring limitations and the crux of his positional dilemma.
But it's not often said how much Rondo benefits from that same relationship—particularly as Boston's half-court offense begins to stagnate. The Celtics are generally good about moving within their offense, but they nonetheless get bogged down in over-dribbling at times. Bradley gives Rondo (or Pierce, or Kevin Garnett) an outlet in those situations by continuously making moves that put pressure on defenses to cover him. In that, Bradley either provides a solution to Boston's problem (with a direct catch and shot attempt) or a momentary distraction; even the top playmakers benefit from a little sleight of hand, and if Bradley can catch a defender's peripheral attention so that Rondo can more easily trigger his first step, that's a significant advantage.
Plus, Bradley typically draws the assignment of defending an opponent's top offensive threat or ball-handler when he shares the floor with Rondo, thereby easing the workload of a high-usage Celtic. It's an arrangement that allows for Bradley to shine while affording Rondo the chance for some much-needed rest—not to mention fielding a lineup with three (including Garnett) All-NBA-worthy defenders.
Playing with Courtney Lee
Such redundancy. Bradley and Lee both are combo guards of a sort who are much better manipulating space off the ball than they are controlling the offense, and playing them together would thus mitigate both players' strengths. It could certainly be worse; Bradley and Lee would at least be able to help out one another with the ball-handling responsibilities while they share a hypothetical backcourt, but neither would be enabled to slash in the most effective fashion nor set up his counterpart as to maximize his cutting efforts.
In short: Trotting out Bradley and Lee as a backcourt team is a bit of a mess and would likely result in Rivers putting the ball in the hands of Pierce or Garnett as a primary creator on most possessions. That's not exactly ideal, either, given the importance of both stars' other offensive responsibilities, giving Rivers reason enough to avoid this pairing whenever possible.
Playing with Jason Terry
Though undersized, the duo of Bradley and Terry is actually a pretty solid alternative for when Rondo finally does get a chance to catch his breath. On face, JET would seem to be far too similar to Lee to be a fitting backcourt mate for Bradley; the Mavericks used Terry as a slotted 2-guard almost exclusively, where he became one of the most deadly spot-up and catch-and-shoot players in the league. But their skill sets are divergent enough that Bradley and the Celtics' new sixth man could actually mesh rather well.
Terry isn't a particularly reliable defender, and Bradley isn't an especially dependable shot-creator. That's where each player is able to step in for one another and cross-match their way into a fairly balanced relationship. Terry may indeed have been dubbed Dallas' shooting guard in the past, but he also was the ball-handler in a ton of pick-and-roll-based sets. Being a shoot-first guard doesn't negate Terry's ability to make plays, giving him ample room to work off Pierce, Garnett and Brandon Bass within Boston's offense. He may not share in Rondo's capacity to really make the most out of Bradley's off-ball movement, but he'd nonetheless ensure that the Celtics offense—which was one of the shakiest in the league last season—doesn't collapse on itself.
On the other side of the ball, Bradley is more than capable of playing "big" in order to defend taller guards whom Terry may not be able to cover. Such is the benefit of having a defender with first-rate lateral movement and an incredible capacity to pressure the ball; Bradley denies, denies, denies, leaving even those opponents a full head taller than him with limited lanes and opportunities.
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