How good is Avery Bradley as a defender? The guard’s return from double shoulder surgery tonight and his season that follows will be an interesting test case for his value defensively — although an answer may have been found even when he didn’t play. Under coach Doc Rivers, defense has been a consistent “control” factor in the Celtics’ equation. This was the case long before Bradley arrived as a rookie in 2010, but has not held true in his absence. The Celtics now are 12th in points allowed per 100 possessions, rank 17th in field-goal shooting allowed and their net offensive rebounds rank second-to-last in the NBA. These are part of the famed Four Factors predicting hoops success, but it seems as if more and more, Bradley was the one missing factor for Boston.
It might not happen tonight, but Bradley will surely receive more minutes in his third season than last year’s 21.4 per game. It’s safe to assume with more minutes he’ll deliver an even larger defensive presence. Remember, his defensive win shares in 2011-12 was 22nd best in the NBA for guards, but he did it in the fewest minutes per game of anyone in the top 38 — and only two players in the top 60 in DWS had fewer minutes per game than Bradley last season.
And here’s the one spot where more minutes from Bradley can improve this team immediately: Keeping opponents out of the paint. Boston allows the seventh-most attempts at the rim this season, and is middle-of-the-pack from 3-to-9 feet, as well. They are mediocre at defending those shots, too, ranking 15th in at-rim shooting percentage 20th from 3-to-9 feet. Not only are they allowing shooters a red carpet to the rim, but they’re not in position to make a play on a contested shot most times, either. (Allowing that many opponents in the paint also contributes to the Celtics’ awful rebounding, too) This is where Bradley’s defense at the perimeter, usually on the other team’s best guard, will be crucial at stopping that penetration from the start.
It’s a concept that doesn’t require an applied mathematics degree. It does, however, require a defender willing to be the kind of leader Rajon Rondo is for Boston’s offense. Kevin Garnett, even in his late 30s, is still an elite defender but he is just one man and usually stands as the last line of defense. Bradley is back to change that, and he will — whether it’s enough to save this Celtics season may be too large a task, however, for the 22-year-old.
What will his impact be?
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