Can Avery Bradley Be Boston Celtics' Shooting Guard of the Future?

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Can Avery Bradley Be Boston Celtics' Shooting Guard of the Future?
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Is Avery Bradley the long-term answer for the C's?

We are entering a new era in Boston Celtics basketball, and with that comes assessment and evaluation of the team's young talent. Are the roster's current youngsters the answer for the future?

Today, we will examine Avery Bradley, an undersized shooting guard entering his fourth NBA season.

Can Bradley be the Celtics' 2-guard long-term?

The 22-year-old burst onto the scene in the 2011-12 campaign when Ray Allen was bothered by bone spurs in his ankle. He played remarkably, demonstrating outstanding perimeter defense and much more efficient offense than anyone would have imagined. As a result, he supplanted Allen as the starter.

However, Bradley battled through awful shoulder injuries throughout the year, so awful that his left shoulder was popping in and out like a children's toy during the 2012 postseason.

The Celtics decided enough was enough, and prior to Game 5 of their second-round playoff series, they ended his season and sent him off to undergo shoulder surgery. Actually, surgeries, as Bradley underwent procedures on both shoulders.

Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
Bad shoulders forced Bradley into surgery during the 2012 playoffs.

He would return in January of the 2012-13 campaign, and you could tell he was not yet right on the offensive side of the ball. While his defense remained stellar, he struggled shooting the basketball, and you have to think that his shoulders were the culprit for his decreased level of productivity.

Taking all of that into consideration, it's difficult to project just what type of player Bradley can be offensively.

We do know one thing: He is outstanding at making backdoor cuts, perhaps even the best in the business at doing so. He has an incredible knack for finding holes in the defense and putting himself in ideal position to receive a clean pass for an easy shot.

Other than that, his game is a mystery. Just compare his stats from his past two seasons.

Year FG% 3PT% TS% eFG% OWS
2011-12 49.8 40.7 55.5 52.5 0.6
2012-13 40.2 31.7 46.1 44.4 -1.3

 

As I'm sure you can tell, there is a colossal difference in Bradley's offensive efficiency between the last two years. The question remains, was the guard's alarming drop-off a direct result of his recovery from dual shoulder surgeries, or was he simply regressing to the mean?

The possibility of it being the latter is a bit worrisome. Avery was not a big-time scoring threat during his lone season at Texas. He shot only 43.2 percent from the floor, and everyone in the world knew that one of his biggest issues was his lack of a jump shot.

In 2011-12, though, Bradley developed a deadly corner three-pointer (particularly from the strong side, where he hit 18 of 25), and he parlayed that into a near 41 percent clip from downtown.

Bradley developed a deadly corner three in 2011-12, especially from the strong side, via NBA.com

Plus, Bradley's main problem in 2012-13 was not his jump shot. He didn't exactly light it up with corner triples, but he was still relatively solid from those areas, connecting on 35.2 percent of those attempts (oddly enough, he shot better from the weak side this time around).

Also, his mid-range game was actually better this past season than last, as he converted on 44.1 percent of his mid-range jumpers compared to the 40 percent he hit on in 2011-12.

No; Bradley's most pressing issue was finishing at the rim.

As you can see, Bradley was awful around the rim in 2012-13.

A year after shooting 58.3 percent at the basket, the defensive wiz shot a paltry 44.3 percent from the same area. Think about that for a second: His mid-range jumper was essentially just as high of a percentage shot as a layup.

To me, that is a clear-cut sign that his shoulders were hindering his game.

Obviously, the closer you get to the hoop, the more contact you are likely to take, and Bradley was either having trouble finishing when receiving contact, or he was tentative because he was trying to protect his recently repaired shoulders. Actually, it was probably a combination of both.

You can think of this as a good thing or a bad thing. The good side of it is that Bradley is much more likely to shoot better—considerably better, actually—than 44.3 percent at the basket in 2013-14 because his shoulders should be sturdier and, well, logic basically tells you he'll shoot better than that.

The potential bad side? Perhaps Bradley's shoulder complications are deeper than we think and he'll never be able to put together a consistent season again.

For now, let's err on the side of optimism and assume he will be healthier in the future. Let's ask the original question once again: Is this the guy Boston wants to man the shooting guard position?

Well, it depends.

Even if AB becomes more durable and doesn't show any ill effects of his surgically repaired shoulders, he is not likely ever to be a reliable offensive threat.

That's not to say he will be nothing on the offensive side of the ball; just that he will never be someone who averages more than 13-14 points per game in his best year. Given his propensity for making precise cuts to the basket, you would think that his efficiency would be fairly high, though, so that's good.

Taking that into consideration, if the C's want to have Bradley starting for the long run, they need to make sure they have enough offense around him. That means Jeff Green must be a consistent 18-20 point guy and their frontcourt must be able to consistently score. It also means that Rajon Rondo may have to pick up his scoring.

Think of the San Antonio Spurs back when they had Bruce Bowen. They had players such as Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili to mask his lack of offense. That's what the Celtics need to do with Bradley.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Bowen's lack of scoring didn't prevent him from having a huge role in San Antonio.

Of course, having Avery in the starting five would pay huge dividends on the other end of the floor, and that is the sole reason why he is currently the starting 2-guard to begin with.

Bradley, who received enough votes to finish 12th in Defensive Player of the Year voting this past year, is one of the feistiest perimeter defenders in the game.

Due to the fact that he is generally smaller than the player he is guarding, he plays extremely physically, frequently getting his chin up into the opponent's chest. Bradley is also incredibly strong for his size and has very long arms, so he is fully capable of defending some of the bigger guards in the league.

Let's presume that Bradley's offense is closer to the 2011-12 version next year and that his defense remains stout. Let's also expect Green to continue developing into a dependable scorer and for Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk to serve as steady contributors down low.

In that case, I see no reason why Bradley wouldn't be able to hold down the fort at shooting guard long-term.

You know you are getting a dynamite defender; you just have to hope that his offense is more like it was two years ago and starts improving.

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