The pair has shared the floor for roughly 300 minutes this season, not nearly enough time to definitively state whether they'll succeed or fail over the long haul. Both are smart, talented players who are still improving and growing, so judging their recent synergy on a 14-game sample size is premature.
They have history going beyond this season, though, and most of it was wildly effective. In addition, we know both players have a strong desire to compete beside one another for years to come, which matters. Here's what Bradley told ESPNBoston's Chris Forsberg in March:
"I would love to play for Boston, I would love to play with Rondo, so I wouldn't mind it at all. I'm pretty sure any guard in the NBA would love to play with Rondo."
Here's how the two have played together so far.
Celtics lineups that feature Bradley and Rondo are getting punctured to the tune of 108 points per 100 possessions. That’s grotesque defense, and it ranks slightly worse than the Philadelphia 76ers for the season.
Even though both players are far above average defenders for their respective positions, Rondo (6'1") and Bradley (6'2") are not tall enough to regularly defend most (not all) starting off guards.
It creates glaring mismatches on the perimeter, and it allows zero margin for error, especially without any imposing rim protection serving as a safety net behind them.
In a recent game against the Atlanta Hawks, Bradley guarded Jeff Teague, and Rondo stuck to Kyle Korver. The 6’7” Korver got his shot off whenever he wanted. Here’s an example from that game of what can happen when both aren’t on the same page.
The play comes in transition, so Rondo and Bradley have swapped assignments. With Elton Brand holding the ball at the top of the key, Teague fakes like he’s setting a screen for Korver then slips to the rim. Bradley makes the mistake of sticking with Korver instead of switching onto Teague, Brand hits Teague with a pass and Boston’s defense fractures.
That's bad stuff, but here's their head coach, Brad Stevens, on the positives of having these two share a backcourt, per Fosberg:
The problem with Avery is he can chase a 2 and shut him down or he can pressure the 1 and make it difficult to get into your offense. Sometimes you want to put him on multiple guys, but it's nice to have other guys out there like [Jerryd] Bayless and Rondo who can really defend, as well, when everybody's engaged and locked in.
They've struggled so far, but it's still too early to declare their pairing a defensive weakness.
How's the Offense?
On offense, the Celtics score at a rate that’d rank 24th in the league when Bradley and Rondo share the floor. All these sample sizes are small, but Bradley is shooting just 37.2 percent from the floor when Rondo is beside him (as opposed to 44.9 percent in the 1452 minutes he’s by himself).
More interesting and significant, however, is where Bradley’s taking his shots. With Rondo off the court, only 5.6 percent of Bradley’s total field-goal attempts have come above the break (any three-pointer that’s not in the corner). With Rondo? That number spikes to 17.8 percent and is his second most common shot.
What about accuracy? Without Rondo, Bradley’s making a subpar 37.1 percent of his threes above the break. With Rondo? Twenty-three attempts and 12 makes (52.2 percent).
Again: small sample size. But this could be super important. Rondo is the center of Boston’s basketball universe right now, and the team needs to find players who complement his skill-set. Having a two guard that can knock down threes helps space the floor and allows open driving lanes and passing lanes for Rondo to play with.
Having one who can't is not an option. Defenses in today’s NBA always worry about knockdown three-point shooters, and if Bradley can become one it’ll go a long way in deciding Boston’s annual efficiency rate.
Is this Boston's backcourt of the future? Maybe that phrase is unnecessarily drastic.
From a financial perspective, Boston’s relationship with Bradley won’t be as large a commitment as other teams around the league either already have or will soon make with their young starting backcourts.
The Washington Wizards will give Bradley Beal a maximum contract as soon as he’s eligible, as they did with John Wall. The Golden State Warriors used Stephen Curry’s shaky ankles to lock him into a below-market value deal, but they won’t be so lucky with Klay Thompson should they choose to sign him long-term in a couple of years.
The price tags for Beal and Thompson mean their teams must allocate cap space elsewhere to fit other team needs. Those two will be on the court a ton, lessening the need for a quality backup. They also wouldn’t squander a valuable first-round pick on a traditional two guard.
The Celtics and Bradley are in a different situation. He’s not nearly as valuable or talented as Thompson or Beal, so his contract won’t be as high. We don’t know how much Bradley will make, or even how long his next deal will be, but let’s say it’s somewhere between $25 and $30 million over four years.
That contract is hardly a liability. The Celtics would have more than enough flexibility to either draft at that position or sign another player to share some time. If for whatever reason the Rondo/Bradley duo spontaneously combusts, Bradley’s contract will also be tradable. He’s still only 23 years old and steadily improving. Danny Ainge could find plenty of takers.
It’d be great if Bradley and Rondo became a stable fixture in the backcourt, but if they don’t it won’t be the end of the world. Pending how much he costs, the Celtics aren’t risking much re-signing Bradley to a long-term deal.
These two can work together. They’re highly skilled on both ends of the floor. The small sample size coupled with a poor supporting cast make them difficult to evaluate, but Boston has so many other pressing issues to deal with. Having Bradley and Rondo make up their starting backcourt over the next few years shouldn’t be a major problem.