- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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When everyone is healthy, is Avery Bradley the starting shooting guard for Boston?In reassembling their core this offseason, the Boston Celtics were able to retain their end-of-the-regular-season starting 5 in Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, Paul Pierce, Brandon Bass, and Kevin Garnett.
For three weeks in August we'll break up the summer doldrums by trying to predict exactly how the 2012-13 season will play out for the Boston Celtics.
Bradley's season, however, ended prematurely during Boston's playoff run when his often-dislocated left shoulder required surgery in late May. He underwent a second procedure in July to stabilize his right shoulder and his status for the start of the 2012-13 campaign is uncertain (even Bradley won't tip his hand about when he might be available). If the Celtics desire to keep Jason Terry in his familiar sixth man role, fellow newcomer Courtney Lee is likely to vault into the starting lineup if Bradley isn't ready for the start of the season.
But the question we put to our panel of summer prognosticators takes it one step further: Who starts at shooting guard when everyone is healthy?
For his part, Bradley said this week that he doesn't expect the starting job to just be given to him, regardless of when he's back on the floor. Said Bradley, "I’m just ready to do whatever my team needs me to do. I’m just going to be prepared and ready to go out there and do my role, and do whatever my team needs me to do to win games."
Our thoughts? There's absolutely no denying the numbers from the end of last season. The Celtics were a dominant defensive team when Bradley was on the floor with the starting unit and that created opportunities at the other end of the floor despite the fact that Bradley's offensive game is still developing. Bradley absolutely deserves to be the starter when healthy unless Lee proves to be equally as valuable with the first unit.
One thing to keep in mind: the biggest issue facing the Boston bench in recent seasons has been an inability to consistently generate offense. By keeping Lee with the reserve unit, Boston can trot out second units that pairs him with the likes of Terry and Jeff Green, giving Boston three quality scoring options on the floor.
The one lingering debate is whether Lee's size makes him a better fit in the starting lineup. Much like last season when the Celtics initially toyed with the idea of moving Mickael Pietrus into Ray Allen's starting role, there's a benefit to having a 6-foot-5 player capable of covering the bigger 2s in the league. Alas, Bradley's defense is so stout, he usually negates any height he gives up with his cover skills.
The good thing for Boston is that neither Bradley nor Lee has cemented themselves as a starter to this point in their careers (Lee started 26 games in 58 appearances last year), which means both players should be open to whatever role they settle into. There's always the possibility that Boston could mix and match based on the opponent, but the team has typically settled on lineup consistency.
Read on for our panel predictions:
Greg Payne, ESPN Boston (Avery Bradley)
I think Avery Bradley will ultimately earn the starting job, but he's going to have to earn that starting gig back from Courtney Lee when he returns from rehabbing his shoulders. The spot won't be waiting for him, as I fully expect Lee to be a very capable starter who will contribute on a very consistent basis. Bradley certainly shined during the second half of last season, but the sample size wasn't large enough to guarantee his spot. With that said, though, Lee boasts more NBA experience, which could make him a better candidate for a bench role, as he'll better understand how to adjust to get into the flow of a game already in progress. Doc Rivers really likes the Rajon Rondo-Bradley pairing in the backcourt, as it's very formidable defensively, and with Lee arguably sporting, at this point in their respective careers, a better all-around game than Bradley, Rivers will likely opt to have a weapon like that come off the bench to pair with Jason Terry.
Ryan DeGama, CelticsHub (Avery Bradley)
Until his shoulders fell apart, Avery Bradley’s promotion to the starting lineup was running neck-and-neck with Kevin Garnett’s move to center as the biggest factor in Boston’s turnaround. The Bradley lineup (along with Rondo, Garnett, Pierce and Bass) was 19 massive points better per 100 possessions than their opponents. That spread includes both a devastating defensive efficiency number (92.96) and, surprisingly, a 112.54 on the offensive side. You don’t mess with those results. So, unless Bradley’s recovery precludes him from raising his arms above his shoulders, he should be the starting SG on this team. There’s probably a Courtney Lee counterargument here, but it can’t be based around his 3-point shooting (where Bradley wins 40.7 to 40.1 percent) or overall offense, where Bradley has shown a knack for finding off-ball seams and has displayed flashes of a useful off-the-dribble game. Start Lee early in the season while Bradley recovers, and against Joe Johnson-sized shooting guards, but otherwise, Bradley’s the guy.
Tom King, Celtics Town (Courtney Lee)
Ironically, after Ray Allen leaves for Miami because he's unsatisfied with a supporting, reserve role, his replacement, Courtney Lee, will start at shooting guard for the Celtics for the majority of the season and throughout Boston's playoff run. With incumbent starter Avery Bradley potentially sidelined for the start of the season, Lee will acquit himself well alongside Rajon Rondo and the Celtics will get off to a fast start. Though he's not quite the defensive force Bradley is, Lee’s consistency and professionalism will earn him the trust and respect of Doc Rivers. After shooting a surprising 40 percent on 3-pointers last season, Bradley will struggle with his outside shot upon his return and settle into the bench’s backcourt with Jason Terry. Bradley’s energy and ball pressure, combined with Terry’s pick-and-roll mastery, will spark the league’s most-improved second unit.
Brandon Paul, CLNS Radio (Avery Bradley)
With Ray Allen gone and the Big Three era over, Rajon Rondo will be calling more of the shots for the Celtics. Reports this offseason indicated that Avery Bradley was placed into the starting lineup last season over Allen, not only because of Doc Rivers' decision, but based on the starting point guard's recommendation. The reason for that is quite simple: Throughout the second half of the 2011-12 season, Rondo and Bradley excelled playing next to each other. Because of the success the duo had last season, there's no doubt in my mind that Bradley will be the starting shooting guard for the Celtics when healthy. This doesn't necessarily mean that Bradley will play more minutes than Courtney Lee, because there may be games when the Celtics are more in need of Lee's scoring abilities rather than Bradley's quickness and defensive tenacity. Like with Allen, you can also expect Lee to play the majority of the minutes for the Celtics during crunch time when a big basket is needed.
Your turn: Who do you think should be the Celtics starting shooting guard when everyone is healthy? Sound off with your thoughts in the comments.
In reassembling their core this offseason, the Boston Celtics were able to retain their end-of-the-regular-season starting 5 in Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, Paul Pierce, Brandon Bass, and Kevin Garnett.