Celtics Circuit: The Evaluation of Avery Bradley

Avery Bradley shows off his trademark defense against Dwayne Wade

Is Avery Bradley good?  Well, of course he is.  He’s been a starter and a contributor for an NBA team, but is he good as a long term commitment for the Boston Celtics?  That is the question Danny Ainge and Co. must face sooner rather than later.

The NBA trade deadline is only a few days away, but more importantly, Bradley is due to become a restricted free agent this offseason. That “restricted” tag does allow the Celtics to match any offer Bradley may receive elsewhere, but also puts the onus on the team to decide on if they feel Bradley is a worthwhile investment.

There was a reason Bradley slid to the nineteenth pick in the 2010 draft.  At 6 foot 2 and lacking the true decision making  and ball handling skills of a point guard, as well as the three point shot required for shooting guards to succeed, Bradley was caught in some sort of hybrid zone.  After barely playing his rookie season, Bradley finally was able to showcase his elite athletic ability the following season.  Due to Ray Allen’s injury, Bradley slid into the starting lineup amongst a group of players who would take the pressure off of him.  Rondo was there to handle and distribute the ball, while KG, Pierce and Bass were on the floor to score.

Fast forward two seasons later and a lot of the same questions still persist.  To his credit, Bradley has improved his entire game steadfastly since his rookie season and has to be considered one of the better players on a below average team this year.  He’s averaging 43% shooting, including, a respectable 35% on three pointers.  Asked to carry more a scoring burden, Bradley has responded with 14 points per game.  His defense is rightfully lauded by opponents to the point that opposing point guards dread taking the ball up the court against him, and his pure athletic ability remains on par with players of similar size.  He has also seemed to harness the ability to slow games down a bit after a disturbing showing in last playoffs Knicks series.

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With the recent explosion of advanced statistics in sports (particularly in the NBA), one has to wonder how “nerd” stats view an undersized two guard whose offensive pedigree is predicated on mid-range jumpers and backdoor cuts.  According to Basketball Reference, Bradley’s PER (Player Efficiency Rating) settles in at 12.3, oddly the same rating as Ray Allen, the guy he subsequently replaced.  PER is a bench mark example for just how efficient a player is on a per minute basis.  Kevin Durant is the league leader this season at 30.9, while the league average lands at 15.

Bradley’s true shooting percentage lies at 313rd in the league, while his usage rating is 81st.  True shooting measures a player’s efficiency in two point field goals, three point field goals, and free throw accuracy.  Usage rating simply estimates the percentage of team plays ran for a player when he is on the court.  A player doesn’t solely exist on a stat sheet, but briefing over Bradley’s case, it is clear that he must keep improving as an offensive player as the team relies on him more and more to be a consistent scoring threat.  He will also need to develop more of a dependable three point shot, as team personnel have slowly tried distancing their players from taking long contested two point shots – considered now to be the most inefficient shot in basketball.

Injuries have robbed Bradley in recent seasons, missing 31 last year, and eight this season.  The recent status on his right ankle is murky at best, indicating he may not be back when the Celtics resume play in Phoenix on Wednesday.  Celtics officials have to be frustrated with the inability of Bradley and Rajon Rondo (an oddly dynamic duo when healthy) to get on the floor at the same time.  Evaluating a player is difficult enough, but add in a bucket full of injuries, and the task gets that much more difficult.

Bradley will be dangled at the trade deadline for the right price, but expect Ainge to try to muster up a long term deal for the former Texas Longhorn.  He has a clear desire to improve, and by all accounts, appears to be a good locker room presence.  The question is, for what price?

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