The last month of the season beckons and so does this week’s 5-on-5 so we beckoned Chris Forsberg from ESPN Boston to join us in talking Avery Bradley, playoff matchups and Austin Rivers.
1. How has your perception of Avery Bradley changed this season?
Hayes Davenport: It’s more favorable. Just from the extra playing time he’s gotten, Bradley has started to settle down on offense: you can hardly see his heart beating when he gets the ball anymore. His confidence has improved his jump shot and allowed him to shoot it more: he’s attempted five threes in his last three games after taking only one in the 27 games before that. These were the 19th picks before Avery Bradley: Jeff Teague, J.J. Hickson, Javaris Crittenton, Quincy Douby. I think he’s going to stand out in that group in a couple years, specifically as a Sefolosha-type perimeter defender and occasional jump shooter.
Brendan Jackson: I have completely reversed course on Avery Bradley. He has proven to be a fearless defender and has shown me more in the way of attacking the basket and jump shooting than I thought he was capable of. Bradley couldn’t have gone into a better situation coming in as a rookie. Instead of learning one-on-one, low percentage shots, he’s learned the art of ball movement and effective cutting: a lost art for many NBA players.
Chris Forsberg: Bradley never had a chance last year because of the pre-draft ankle injury (and, later, Doc Rivers’ penchant for red-shirting rookies). I think we all thought he could wiggle his way into the rotation this year based on his defense, but I’m not sure anyone knew he’d be the type to jump in the starting lineup and hold the fort when the likes of Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen were out. With his cutting prowess and an improving shot, he’s dispelling the notion that only his defense was NBA ready.
Brian Robb: I see a player that is now growing comfortable with his offense and playing to his strengths. Last year, Bradley was a 20-year-old rookie trying to grasp NBA schemes while battling back from an ankle injury. While the defense has always been there for him, the offense has slowly come around this year, starting with the strong finishes upon cutting around the basket. That success has breeded confidence in Bradley and now the C’s have the guard they thought they drafted, one who can be a capable offensive player. Before the season started, I wasn’t sure Bradley would be able to reach that point this year.
CelticsHub Reader Steve Backus: Avery appears to have worked on his ball handling. Last year he was bent over so much while dribbling it put him at a disadvantage. The big thing he learned (after Doc suggested it) is off-the-ball movement. The cuts to the basket have been crucial in getting him easy baskets. Defensively, he appears to be getting better and picking his spots to really apply pressure. Sometimes you just need to keep your guy in front of you.
2. What are your thoughts on a starting backcourt of Rondo/Bradley, with Allen off the bench?
Davenport: Make it happen. The starters don’t need Ray to spread the floor for them anymore: Pierce makes his own space, KG’s always got it for his long two anyway, and Rondo would actually prefer to have less. Bradley gives them an additional lockdown defender whose talents are wasted on backup guards like Earl Watson and Ishmael Smith. The bench, meanwhile, could use an actual scoring threat other than the one Keyon Dooling sometimes seems to think he is. It’s not ideal to add another long-range gunner to a bench with Dooling and Mickael Pietrus, but it’s worth a long-term experiment.
Jackson: Avery Bradley brings two distinct things to the table that Ray Allen lacks: 1) he is able to bring the ball up the floor and 2) he is a ball hawking defender. The bench is sorely lacking offense right now with Pietrus out and Allen raining threes on second stringers would be beautiful. All that said, it will never happen.
Forsberg: Unless Allen’s ankle is going to be a real concern moving forward, it’s probably too late in the season to ponder any sort of switch. Next year, if the Celtics bring back Allen on low money, it makes perfect sense with the bench long needing a offensive spark. The one concern: Rondo-Bradley leaves you undersized in the backcourt and it’s nice to have the Rondo-Pietrus option to combat bigger guards.
Robb: I’ll pass for now. The duo has looked promising, with Bradley having a couple of his best offensive performances in succession but this team needs consistent offense, which means it needs Ray Allen out there with the starters. If anything, the best thing I think we can take from the Rondo/Bradley pairing is a willingness for Doc to go with it earlier in games. As we’ve seen with Garnett getting early rests, Doc now can have confidence throwing a Rondo/Bradley pairing out there for extended stretches, giving Allen a longer breather before coming back to help carry the second team offense.
CelticsHub Reader Jamie Houston: Ray is much better suited at this point in his career for a reduced minutes role. He started out the first 2-3 weeks of the season on fire and has definitely had some major dips since then. His defense has also been amongst the worst on the team, leading to a lot of dribble penetration which in turn leads to our bigs picking up fouls or allowing easy baskets. Ray is ideal as a sixth man right now. Play 20-25 all-out minutes a night and bomb away. Most sixth men are known much more for their offense then their defense (Jason Terry for example).
3. Overall, how have the Celtics weathered this condensed season so far?
Davenport: Fine. I don’t actually chalk up the team’s mediocrity to the short season. They’ve won seven of their 15 back-to-backs, and the weird streakiness of their season hasn’t lined up with any kind of schedule density. Injuries have nothing to do with it, either: with this team, injuries were going to happen if they played a football schedule. Guys like Paul Pierce and Garnett have actually held up remarkably well (destroys wooden coffee table from knocking too hard).
Jackson: Getting off to the slow start was a big mistake for the Celtics. I think it’s pretty clear that many players were convinced that the season would be cancelled and showed up to camp out of shape and not ready to play. Now, everyone is in shape, they’re familiar with one another, and the offense is working very well. They’ve played well in stretches and not so great in others; hard to expect/ask for anything more.
Forsberg: Given all the health woes, it’s hard to find too much fault in a team that’s sitting on top of the Atlantic Division (albeit with company that owns the head-to-head tie-breaker) and has potential to be as high as a No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference. Sure, the Celtics are maddeningly inconsistent and fumble away leads on a nightly basis, making things even tougher on themselves than it needs to be this year. If Boston can emerge from the regular season with all the bodies they currently have healthy and a playoff berth, they’ve survived and that’s all you could ask.
Robb: As good as you could have hoped for. While the old guys have avoided any serious injuries, the way this team has fought on despite a decimated front line and a resulting shallow bench is beyond encouraging. The slow start and overall early inconsistency was a bit frustrating, but now that the core pieces have rounded into form, you can’t help but be a little excited for a potential playoff run that may last a round or two longer than anyone is expecting.
CelticsHub Reader Martijn Fleuren: After an unfortunately streaky “silly season,” the Celtics finally seem to be showing some semblance of consistency lately, despite (or thanks to) their shrinking bench. While the back-to-back games are clearly a problem and wins against .500 or better teams are as rare as a JJJ sighting, the Celtics are currently 10-5 in March, relatively secure of at least a playoff appearance and they have played well enough to reduce the “blow-it-up” talk down to a simmer. I would give the team a solid B this season. Could be better but definitely could be worse.
4. Should the Celtics prefer Chicago or Miami in round one?
Jackson: Orlando!? Indiana?! Philadelphia?! Okay, it’s almost impossible to think the Celtics will finish the season having successfully usurped the 4th seed. That said, I don’t see the Celtics having a preference whether or not they play Miami or Chicago in the first round. If they hope to make it to the Finals, they’ll have to play one of them at some point. If I have to choose, I’ll take Chicago. The familiarity is there with Thibs and Miami’s athleticism should scare a team like the Celtics.
Forsberg: Miami, and It’s not even close. Unless the Bulls are still bothered by injuries — and you can’t rule that out — then Chicago is a nightmare matchup, particularly up front. Miami has more talented superstars, but Boston matches up better and Miami’s overall lack of depth (compared to Chicago, at least) would allow the Celtics to put up a better fight. The Heat shouldn’t scare the Celtics nearly as much as the Chicago Thibodeaus.
Robb: Neither, with Philly and Atlanta in their sights they should be focused on getting out of those two basement matchups. However, given a choice I’d want Miami, as crazy as that sounds. Chicago’s front line is just too big for the C’s to be able to handle over a seven-game series. Beating Miami obviously is a long shot as well, but the C’s were mere seconds away from pushing this series to 2-2 last year even after Rondo’s gruesome elbow injury. If they’re healthy, Boston will give Miami a good run for its money.
CelticsHub Reader Alex Renshaw: Miami. They’e better than Chicago but Ray, Pierce and Pietrus match up well against Dwayne Wade and LeBron James and KG is a good matchup against Bosh. This is when Rondo has to step up and lead the Cs. Bass and KG need to spread the floor to give Rondo an open lane to the basket. Chicago’s corps of big men makes them a really tough opponent for the Celtics.
5. Are there any reasons to expect Austin Rivers in green next season?
Davenport: I don’t think he’ll fall to the 16-19 range, after the improvements he started showing in the second half of his season and his historical pedigree. But if he makes it to the Celtics’ pick, I think they will and should take him. He’d add major value for this team as a shooting guard off the bench (SG looks like his natural NBA position because his ballhandling usually serves his scoring rather than his passing) and that’s a need position for this team…especially if they end up losing Ray Allen, which we’re hearing to be more and more likely.
Jackson: If you watched my pregame chat with Doc Rivers, you’d see that it almost seems like Doc is lobbying for it. I have deep reservations about both Austin as a player and as the son of his coach. I think that’s just asking for locker room disharmony.
Forsberg: Sure, but he’s probably not going to hang around long enough for it to be a consideration. With both of Boston’s first-round picks pegged in that 16-24 range, it’s hard to imagine no one will draft Austin off sheer potential and name-recognition before the Celtics are even close to being on the clock. What’s more, I can’t imagine Boston bundling its picks to move up and take him — it would just look odd given the bloodlines. That said, if Austin slides to when Boston picks, he’s going to be a super intriguing option and the Celtics can’t sneeze at an offensive-minded guard with that much potential.
Robb: Nope. It’s fun to think about Rivers providing the kind of instant offense the C’s will need, but there are too many complicating factors involved to create a scenario where this makes sense for everyone involved.
CelticsHub Reader Chris Thurlow: No – we have a backcourt. We need young size. Badly.