Commentary

Bradley turning into two-way player

Celtics' presumed defensive ace is flashing excellent offensive skills

Updated: December 14, 2013, 11:29 PM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

WALTHAM, Mass. -- The scouting reports on Avery Bradley were scathing entering the season. Bradley, who missed the first two months of the 2012-13 campaign while recovering from double shoulder surgery, had labored through an abysmal offensive year and was pegged a "regressed shooter" and "horrible in the pick-and-roll." He was labeled a "defensive specialist," a backhanded compliment that suggested the All-Defensive second-teamer didn't have even a serviceable offensive game.

Bradley just gritted his teeth and used it as motivation.

[+] EnlargeAvery Bradley, Kenyon Martin
Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY SportsAvery Bradley has elevated his offense over the past eight games.

"I always knew that, once I got an opportunity, I'd be able to show that I'm an offensive player as well," he said.

Over his past eight games -- a span in which Boston has posted a 5-3 mark -- he's proving it. Bradley is averaging 14.9 points on 49 percent shooting, including 58.6 percent (17-of-29) beyond the 3-point arc. Sprinkle in 4.5 rebounds and 1.3 assists, all while driving down his early-season turnover woes, and Bradley has been one of Boston's best two-way players in recent weeks, as evidenced in part by being plus-70 in plus/minus during that span.

But it's his advanced offensive numbers that are staggering.

According to Synergy Sports data, Bradley is averaging 1.112 points per play over the past eight games (119 points on 107 possessions). To offer some perspective, of players with at least 350 total offensive possessions finished this season, LeBron James ranks tops in the NBA at 1.127 points per play overall. If Bradley maintained his recent production, he'd rank second in the NBA.

Bradley started this season painfully slow on the offensive end, ranking among the league's most inefficient players in part because of his high turnover rate early in the year. Through 25 games, he's now averaging 0.883 points per possession (331 points on 375 possessions), which ranks him 38th in the NBA using that same 350-play minimum.

Bradley has emerged as one of the league's most consistent midrange shooters, thriving when defenders sag on him in the pick-and-roll. He has found the stroke on his corner 3-pointer, a shot that helped him supplant Ray Allen in Boston's starting lineup two seasons ago.

If Bradley maintains his current level of play, people might actually start talking about his offense just as often as they reference his tenacious on-ball defense.

Still not sold? Consider this: During Bradley's 262 minutes of floor time over the past eight games, the Celtics own an offensive rating of 114.7 (highest on the team), and that number plummets to 89.3 in the 122 minutes he has been on the bench. Digest that for a moment: The Celtics' offense has been 25 points better per 100 possessions with Bradley on the court the past eight games.

And it's not like the team's defense is suffering. Boston's defensive rating with Bradley on the court in that same span is 98.3, or nearly a point below the team's average for those eight games (99.1).

Avery Bradley: Progressed shooter. Dangerous in the pick-and-roll. Two-way specialist?

"He's really got a nice rhythm shooting the ball," said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. "And we want him to continue to shoot it."

If that's not enough, Bradley has seen an unexpected uptick in defensive rebound rate. Last season, he grabbed a mere 6.5 percent of available defensive rebounds. He is threatening to double that number this season. He's at 11.4 percent for the season through 25 games, but over the past eight contests he has grabbed 13.5 percent of available defensive rebounds. That's almost exactly what Rajon Rondo posted for a defensive rebound rate last season (13.6), and Rondo is regarded as one of the best rebounding guards in the entire league.

"I've been challenging myself because I've never been a great rebounder and I could be because I'm an athletic guard," said Bradley. "I've just been trying to have that be a focus for me to go in there and help our team get rebounds."

[+] EnlargeAvery Bradley
AP Photo/Michael DwyerBradley's challenge is to maintain tenacity at both ends of the floor.

The only negative: Bradley's emergence on the offensive end (and on the defensive glass) seems to have come with a slight downturn in his overall defensive performance. Last season, Bradley limited opponents to 0.697 points per play, the lowest in the league among those with at least 475 total possessions defended, according to Synergy data. Opponents shot just 30.8 percent against Bradley and scored just 31.8 percent of the time (also a league low using that 475-possession minimum).

This season, he's allowing 0.883 points per play as opponents shoot 44.5 percent against him and score on 40.5 percent of possessions. There's a line of thought that with Bradley expending more energy on the offensive end, it's causing a bit of slippage on the defensive side.

Another explanation suggests that Bradley is drawing a lot of tough assignments, particularly without Rondo, which means the team is pairing Bradley with an average defender in Jordan Crawford (the team will get a boost when Rondo returns). What's more, Bradley's woes as a ball handler early in the season likely trickled into his defensive play.

But Stevens said there's no reason Bradley can't be a two-way force and said there's enough depth on the Celtics roster at that 2-guard position to allow Bradley to go full throttle when he's on the court.

Bradley said he doesn't want one side to affect the other.

"I don't really think about it. I try not to," said Bradley. "I haven't picked up as much [full-court] this year, but that's because our defense helps us when I'm back and playing angles. Besides that, I really haven't worried about it. I just go out there and play."

During Friday's win over the New York Knicks, Bradley showed how big of an impact he can make at both ends of the floor, as he was excellent over the final eight minutes of the game. Offensively, he chipped in seven points and hit the go-ahead 3-pointer. Defensively, he erased New York's guards.

Asked if that's the best two-way play Bradley has shown this season, Stevens admitted Bradley was "pretty darn good on both ends of the floor" in the fourth quarter.

Now he just as to maintain it, and the scouting reports before the 2014-15 season will read much differently.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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