Avery Bradley's much-anticipated return to the Boston Celtics began with a perfectly-timed baseline cut that resulted in a smooth reverse layup. For a split second, the Celtics were gifted the exact dynamism a then 21-year-old Bradley infused in their offense toward the end of last year, with Rajon Rondo driving to the basket and finding his backcourt mate at the last second for an effortless point-blank layup.
This particular play was probably what the Celtics dreamt about as they ran into a California buzzsaw last week; it's why the addition of a 22-year-old undersized shooting guard has instilled so much hope in their fans.
Bradley is young, improving and good enough on both ends of the court to open up the game for a team that badly needs reorganization. But of all the people so glad to see Bradley make his return, his backcourt mate, Rajon Rondo, is hands down the most grateful.
How Bradley Helps Rondo On Offense
Bradley's defense is what most people talk about—and rightfully so, as it's downright dominant on the ball—but offensively, his crisp cuts to the basket (that are timed just right as to not muddle up the paint) supply a pressure release on Rondo's drives that weren't there before.
This new athletic presence creates alternatives that previously didn't exist, and Rondo wasted no time taking advantage against the Grizzlies. Here's the aforementioned baseline cut from Boston's first two points of the game.
As the season goes on, Bradley will also exist as a capable long-range shooter. (He shot 40.7 percent from behind the three-point line in a limited number of attempts last season.) He won't stretch the floor quite like Jason Terry, but last year, Bradley replaced the greatest three-point shooter in basketball history, and Boston's offense didn't suffer—instead, it improved dramatically.
If Bradley naturally improves in areas where it's expected—most notably as someone able to attack the basket on is own—everything in Boston's offense will open up. Having someone as athletic as Bradley on the court for 30 minutes a night could also convince Doc Rivers that picking up the offensive pace isn't such a bad idea, which is exactly what Rondo needs to flourish.
How Bradley Helps On Defense
Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley shot over 50 percent from the floor in Bradley's return, but only three of his game-high 23 points came with Bradley as his primary defender. Had this game hypothetically occurred later in the season, with Bradley on the court for more than 18 non-garbage time minutes, Conley's night would've been drastically less successful.
These two clips are great examples of the full-court, clamp-down pressure Bradley exerts on opponents. And while he's doing it, Rondo is left free to roam on the less dangerous off guard.
This is important for a couple reasons: 1) Less energy exerted on the defensive end can be used on the offensive end by Boston's most important offensive player, 2) Rondo is most effective in passing lanes, using his intelligence to gamble away from the ball, which he can now do without worrying about an opposing point guard doing excessive damage. (According to 82games.com, Rondo's counterparts this season are averaging 18.8 points per-48 minutes.)
What Bradley does is force turnovers, improving both Boston's defense (obviously) and also its offense, which could always use an extra fast-break opportunity.
Bradley's Immediate and Long-Term Impact on Other Backcourt Pieces
Moving forward, Bradley's return has a profound affect on Boston's bench, which will stabilize itself for the first time all season. Jason Terry and Courtney Lee have struggled mightily with the Celtics, looking uncomfortable on both ends of the court and failing to grasp their new team's tight concepts and philosophies.
Even for a clutch veteran like Terry, the pressure of trying to fit in on defense while simultaneously getting fewer shot attempts on the other end has stunted his ability to perform at a high level on a consistent basis.
Bradley's return lets Terry and Lee know they'll be on the bench at the beginning of games, going against secondary units most of the way and getting their own time to be featured on offense. This is important, and it wouldn't be surprising to see everybody in the backcourt improve their play as they grow more comfortable in the weeks ahead.