Avery Bradley was drafted into the NBA in 2010. He came into the league a mostly raw and unpolished prospect, his selling point being his predatory defensive instincts.
In his seven seasons with the Boston Celtics, Bradley has more than lived up to his defensive expectations. He regularly guards the opposing team’s best player, occasionally locking them down, and has been widely recognized for his effort and prowess on this end of the floor. He’s actually been named to the NBA all-defensive team twice.
Because Bradley is so adept on the defensive end of the floor, a lot of people have missed his development offensively and his subsequent emergence as one of the best two-way guards in the NBA.
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His overall numbers have grown nearly every year and his shooting splits have consistently improved alongside. Bradley is scoring more points, more efficiently.
This past season was Bradley’s best. He averaged 16.3 points per game making him the second highest scorer on the Celtics, trailing only Isaiah Thomas. He’s shooting at roughly 46 percent from the field, 39 percent from beyond the arc, and (truth be told) a somewhat disappointing 73 percent from the free throw line.
While Bradley has made excellent headway in becoming a more rounded player, he still has a lot to work on if he wants to be considered a top-tier shooting guard.
But before I get into that, I want to go over the things that Bradley has already improved on offensively.
In line with current NBA trends, one of the things that Bradley does really well for the Celtics is shooting the spot-up three.
Shooting ’em, not necessarily making ’em.
While he excels at knocking shots down from the right corner, hitting about 52 percent of those attempts according to NBA Savant, he only shoots a slightly better than average percentage from three overall.
The benefit of Bradley shooting spot-up threes is that he makes just enough of them to keep the defense honest. When Bradley lurks along the three-point line, whoever defends Bradley can’t play off of him at the risk of getting burned, which is exactly what ends up happening in the video below.
This seldom happens as most teams know not to leave Bradley open. Most of the time, the benefit of Bradley’s three-point shooting is less in the made shots and more in the spacing that it affords the Celtics.
Moving Off the Ball
And because the Celtics have such great offensive spacing, it allows players room to operate off the ball.
This is where Avery Bradley is at his best.
Bradley slides around screens so effortlessly and is absolutely automatic shooting off of dribble handoffs near the top of the key or in the short corner.
Based on the eye test, it seems like anytime the Celtic offense starts to stagnate Bradley just runs off of a short curl and nails a tough midrange jumper to get it going again.
Based on the numbers, my approximation doesn’t seem that far off.
Bradley converts on midrange shots at a fairly high clip, roughly 43 percent. He shoots 43 percent off handoffs and 44 percent when he comes off of screens, per NBA Stats. Combine these two bits of information and my lingering suspicion that Bradley is basically Rip Hamilton doesn’t seem entirely crazy.
Also worth noting is that Bradley is near the top of the lists in terms of total points scored off of both the aforementioned actions, at least with respect to this past season.
Some analysts actually criticize Bradley for launching an abundance of long two-pointers. In the modern NBA, long two-pointers are considered the benchmark of an inefficient offense, an archaic remnant leftover from the chuckers of yesteryear.
This is where I disagree.
While Bradley has a tendency to shoot long two-pointers, he shoots them infrequently enough and well enough to make them an effective tool in his repertoire. His ability to consistently hit from 18 feet out constitutes the perfect backup plan for the Celtics when all other options are failing.
Avery Bradley is more likely to shoot the Celtics into a game via midrange shots than shoot them out of it.
Rather than taking less long two-point attempts, I’d say the area where Bradley has the most room for improvement is shot creation.
To be blunt, Bradley isn’t a good ball handler. He can’t break down his defender, making it increasingly difficult for him to create his own quality looks at the basket.
With the right pairing, Bradley’s lack of ball control and creativity isn’t an issue.
His backcourt partner Thomas is more than capable of creating looks for the both of them. But if Bradley should happen to find himself without Thomas, he’ll need to step up a bit and take on some of the burden associated with quarterbacking an offense.
Avery Bradley has shown some glimpses of improved ball control already, and given his current growth trajectory, there’s no reason to assume he won’t show out next year with a little more creativity and flair.
I expect he’ll be watching a lot of game film this summer, probably AND1, to try and get the creative juices flowing in time for next season.