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Realistic Expectations for Avery Bradley's Role with Boston Celtics Next Season

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Realistic Expectations for Avery Bradley's Role with Boston Celtics Next Season
David Goldman/Associated Press

The Boston Celtics will begin the 2014-15 season with one of the most notoriously overcrowded backcourts in the NBA.

How does this impact Avery Bradley, who heads into his fifth campaign with a brand-new four-year, $32 million contract?

Coming off a season that wasn’t overly impressive but sort of exceeded expectations (especially on offense), Bradley will likely start beside point guard Rajon Rondo on opening night. But thanks to the presence of Marcus Smart, Boston’s incoming lottery pick, who duplicates many of Bradley’s strengths, there are no promises beyond that.

Elise Amendola/Associated Press

What can the Celtics expect from the 23-year-old? For starters, he won’t be asked to run an offense. It’s clear that despite his diminutive size (6'2") and ability to defend the league’s best point guards on a nightly basis, Bradley is no point guard himself.

He struggles at creating for others off the dribble, finishing drives to the basket and scoring on his own. According to SportVU (via NBA.com), Bradley averaged 2.1 drives per game last season and shot just 39.3 percent on them.

As a team, the Celtics earned just 2.3 points per game when Bradley drove, too—nearly a half point worse than Golden State Warriors forward David Lee, who averaged the same amount of drives per game, and is, well, not a guard.

Bradley is not a particularly good ball-handler, either, and doesn’t have the vision necessary to make consistent, defense-withering passes.

He committed 96 turnovers last year and tallied only 85 assists (or a super-depressing 1.4 per game). With four seasons under his belt, no more evidence is needed to realize he isn’t much more than a complementary piece. He's a spot-up shooter who can space the floor and cut into holes whenever a defense loses track of his location on the weak side. (He sunk 42.2 percent of all his shots that came without taking a dribble, averaging 4.9 attempts per game. For comparison’s sake, Kevin Durant shot 39.3 percent on catch-and-shoot looks while attempting 4.8 per contest.)

Winslow Townson/Associated Press

Suddenly a real threat from beyond the arc, Bradley nailed 39.5 percent of his overall threes last year and shot 40.4 percent on catch-and-shoot attempts from downtown. (Just over six out of every 10 of Bradley’s threes came in the corner, where he knocked down 36.8 percent.)

That isn’t all Bradley’s good for, however. Last season, he became a startlingly effective pull-up shooter (defined by SportVU/NBA.com as any jump shot outside 10 feet where a player took one or more dribbles before shooting), particularly off screens when his defender dove below the pick.

Bradley’s attempts and accuracy in this situation were comparable to Goran Dragic, Mike Conley and Joe Johnson's numbers.

What does this all mean for Bradley’s immediate future with the Celtics? For starters, he’s arguably the team’s best shooter and will find time on the floor for that reason alone due to the spacing issues Rondo and Smart could have with their faulty outside jumpers.

Charles Krupa/Associated Press

Bradley is also the team’s best defender, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anybody who’s ever watched him unleashed on a basketball court. Despite playing limited minutes due to various injuries throughout his short career, Bradley’s already made one All-Defensive Second Team (2012-13) and is widely regarded as one of the most devastating on-ball watchdogs in the world.

He’s undersized for a shooting guard but is quick enough to stay in front of opposing point guards, and he rarely allows taller opponents to back him down in the post. He’s relentless and doesn’t gamble for steals or spin himself out of position off the ball. While teammates (like Rondo) need to preserve energy on offense, Bradley is primarily in the NBA because of his constant effort on the other end.

His future in Boston is less certain, particularly if the Celtics re-sign Rondo to a long-term deal next summer. Smart is a clear franchise building block whose ceiling stands much higher than Bradley’s, and paying a backup off-guard over $8 million per season isn’t the wisest team-building strategy.

As a trade asset, Bradley’s contract could turn into a bargain if placed in another context. He’s still young and still improving, and the higher salary cap in future seasons makes his annual price tag less damaging to somebody else's payroll.

Here's ESPNBoston.com's Chris Forsberg comparing Bradley's contract with other shooting guards across the league:

We asked the wizards at ESPN Stats & Info to crunch the salary numbers for the league's top shooting guards. The 40 top-paid shooting guards last season had an average salary of $7.25 million, with 11 earning $8 million or more (Kobe Bryant, Joe Johnson, Dwyane Wade, Eric Gordon, James Harden, Ben Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Rodney Stuckey, Marcus Thornton, O.J. Mayo, and Monta Ellis). At this early juncture of the summer, at least 11 will earn $8 million-plus next season (sub out Gordon and Stuckey for Paul George and Bradley). 

A prospective trade is far down the line. Bradley is a quality player who will be even more efficient and comfortable playing in a more natural role beside Rondo next season. He’s a good piece to have if you’re looking to win games, and next year he’ll help the Celtics do just that. 

Whether he's beside Smart or Rondo, or lumped into an uber-small lineup that features three guards, Bradley is a useful and versatile weapon in Boston's holster. With health issues hopefully in his rearview mirror, Bradley's 2014-15 season should be his best yet.  

 

All statistics are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com or NBA.com unless otherwise noted. 

Michael Pina covers the NBA for Bleacher Report, Sports on Earth, Fox Sports, ESPN, Grantland and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelVPina. 

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