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The Bradley Effect: Looking at 5-Man Units

 

Ray and Avery compete for the juiciest piece of Ronnie Price's torso.

How fun is it to actually have a starter controversy to deal with? I don’t remember the last time it wasn’t a foregone conclusion who would start a game for this team. It was probably Eric Williams vs. Walter McCarty or something. What a horrible time to be alive.

And this Bradley-Allen discussion is as interesting as it is unfamiliar. So far we’ve mostly heard arguments for Bradley surrounding the need for offense on the bench, the necessity of a starter who can check the other team’s best player, and the name-checking of guys like Thabo Sefolosha and Jason Terry. But I’m mostly interested in which unit is better. This is how the debate should be settled: produce evidence for which unit is better, and give that unit more minutes than the other ones. There are hundreds of Trapper Keepers worth of data available on unit value. Unzipping a few of them could lend a lot to this discussion.

Because if you look at the numbers, the unit featuring Avery Bradley instead of Ray Allen has been much, much better. Like, coconuts better.

Lineup analysis is mostly based on the Offensive and Defensive Efficiency, or how many points the team scores or allows per 100 possessions when that lineup’s in the game. Here are those figures, first for the Rondo-Allen-Pierce-Bass-Garnett lineup, then the Rondo-Bradley-Pierce-Bass-Garnett lineup (via BasketballValue).

Ray’s lineup (269 minutes): 103.89 offensive efficiency, 101.78 defensive efficiency
Avery’s lineup (78 minutes): 114.57 offensive efficiency, 89.86 defensive efficiency

That gives Ray’s lineup a differential of 2.11, and Avery’s a screaming 24.70. Keep in mind that these figures DO NOT INCLUDE LAST NIGHT’S GAME, the most dominant game of the Bradley era, so Bradley’s differential is actually better than that. Plenty more after the jump.

Boston’s average efficiencies (including last night) are 98.6 on offense and 95.8 on defense. Notice that the offensive rating of Ray’s lineup is slightly higher than the average, as you’d hope. But if the offensive rating for that Bradley number, if we could extrapolate it to a full season, would make for easily one of the top three highest-scoring starting lineups in basketball. Miami’s starters put up a 109.93, which isn’t even close.

Same goes for Bradley’s defensive rating of 89.86. Other than Philly’s starters and Chicago’s bench-with-Deng unit, that lineup would give up fewer points than any other high-rotation lineup in basketball. And again, the Bradley unit numbers are actually better than those after yesterday.

There are plenty of other factors flying around in these figures, the small sample size foremost among them. Bradley’s had the good fortune of entering the starting lineup just as Kevin Garnett starting using his powers of concentration to herd the cells in his bone marrow and return his body to its high school powers. Rajon Rondo has also been playing basketball with a renewed commitment to playing basketball.

But wouldn’t it be great to find out how much is noise? With a lineup this hot, a coach should send it on the floor until it stops crushing other teams, probably, right? Which is why I don’t get this as a debate. If Ray Allen feels like coming off the bench would be an affront to his dignity, and preserving Ray’s dignity is Boston’s primary organizing principle, than the team should stop trying to win basketball games and start writing acrostic poems about the value of Ray’s friendship. But if they want to win games, they should keep playing a super-dominant lineup until it stops being super-dominant.

  • W2.

    " If Ray Allen feels like coming of the bench would be an affront to his dignity, and Ray’s dignity is the Boston’s primary organizing principle, than the team should stop trying to win basketball games and start writing acrostic poems about the value of Ray’s friendship."

    Nice.

    • W2.

      PS I wasn;t sure Avery was strong enough to look down a stud like DWade. I am now more convivnced that sending Ray to the bench is a really good idea. He would be playing with Kevin, Dooling, Sasha, and Steamer. That group sound okay on paper esp. if Dooling continues to play like a pro.

  • someguyinsac

    I'm sure Doc will choose what's best for the team and I'm okay with it, no matter which way it goes.

  • skeeds

    I never ever liked lineup comparisons. In my opinion it's one of the most flawed ways of assessing a teams performance. As the article hinted, a lot of very fortunate coincidences took place in these 78 minutes to make any comparison precise.
    That a team is about 20% better in every defensive category when KG is on the floor, than without him (I'm making up the number but I bet it's close), is a valid stat. Given that he's been proving it for 16 years.

    But 78 minutes is such a negligible sample size…

    I look at the Bradley situation the way I looked at Linsanity. Yes, this kid is better than expected, and looks like he is mentally strong, like an outsider has to be to grasp such an opportunity. BUT, I need to see what kind of basketball he'll be playing after the high fades off, to admit he is what I hope he is.

    For now, I'm just thrilled that he bought into the "energy guy" thing, that always seems to be very contagious with this team. For that alone he is very valuable.

    If he can also give us a Tony Allen kind of impact in the playoffs, then I'm starting him next season, without a doubt.

    • KG215

      That's why we need to let it ride. We will find out if Bradley is just a fluke or if he is a legit starter in this league. Ray's game is pretty ideal for a 6th man, so it could work out really well. If not Ray can go back to starting.

    • Sophomore

      You're right that we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves, but I don't buy the Linsanity comparison.

      AB was on everybody's radar out of high school and played well at Texas as a freshman. He's got a beautiful jump shot, excellent physical talent, and out of the box as a 20-year old he was a plus defender. He didn't sneak up on people the way Lin did.

      Can he keep doing it? That's the question. For now, I'd be very reluctant to take him out. Not just because of the plus-minus, but because of what our eyes tell us about the way he changes the offense and defense.

      • skeeds

        don't take the comparison that literally. I didn't compare them as players, I just compared the excitement and overreaction they caused, and how that can't really translate into anything significant before time passes.
        Remember that game against Orlando, where Bradley destroyed Nelson? There where articles the next day calling him the best perimeter defender in the league, and one of the best on ball defenders supposedly some people had ever seen…

        • Sophomore

          I hear that. And I also remember Greg Stiemsma being called the second coming of Bill Russell… that might've been a little bit of an over-reaction.

          My main point about AB is that we've known he has talent for a long time, which makes this less of a surprise. He may lose his confidence again, but to me, it's not unreasonable to hope he can continue to contribute the skills that the first unit badly needs. They don't need him to score a ton or lead the offense. They need him to contribute energy, smart cutting, and spot shooting. I think he can keep doing those things.

          He does bear watching, and I have a feeling that if Doc makes a mistake it's going to be playing him too little, not too much. We'll see!

  • Anthony

    I don't understand what's the big debate? Keep AB's mins above 30, let Ray take Dooling's mins and a few from PP. Everybody's happy except Dooling who wasn't really producing anyway.

    And when MP comes back, PP and Rondo can get more rest with AB/ Ray at the guard spots.

  • lucidsportsfan

    Great numbers. Not to mention the simple fact that the C's are 10-1 this year when Ray's been out. They're about to have to 20th consecutive winning season for a Boston team http://www.lucidsportsfan.com/2012_03_01_archive….

  • Sophomore

    Also – to finish the point about Lin – what makes Lin effective is potentially a problem on the Knicks. He has, and may need, a high usage rate. Made him a problematic fit with Melo and Amare. No such issue with AB.

  • Webster

    Yikes. I recall AB, when first starting for Rondo, looking much like he did last year–lost on offense, a tenacious individual defender with weak team concepts (which is, at least, much more tolerable from a guard than a big). But now? His shot selection with the jump shot seems appropriate (and it seems to be going down when he does take it), and I cannot think of a better cutter at the guard position. I am not certain that I like him on Kobe, and he cannot replace TA on Lebron or Durant, but there are few players in the league I would rather put on the Roses, Wades, and Westbrooks that lurk if the Celtics go deep. In any event, I have a soft spot for offensively inept defensive guards. Congratulations to AB for playing his way out of that category.

    My one worry with starting AB if Allen comes back at strength is that unlike the prototypical 6th men (Terry, Ginobli, Harden), Allen is best shooting off the catch, not creating for himself. Can Dooling give him the passes he needs?

    • josh

      That's my concern. Allen can't really create his own shots. He will be less productive without KG setting him screens and Rondo assists.

      I'd be interested knowing the off/def efficiency of KG at center and KG at the 4.

      • Phil

        Isn't Bradley even more reliant on others to get his scoring though? I don't have the numbers, but I'd have to think a higher percentage of Bradley's buckets are assisted than Ray's. My main reason for wanting the Bradley starting unit to stay (aside from the eye-popping numbers posted here,) is that I don't think Bradley would be nearly as effective without a great PG and good players all around him taking the attention of the defense.

        With Ray, he needs others to set up his shot, but you can get up three pointers in any situation. Even if his percentage drops a little, that firepower would be something the bench is missing.

        • noche

          I'd think Ray would be playing in like a Rondo Ray Pietrus (Pavlovic?) and some KG/Bass/Cleveland Steamer/Hollins combo. That would leave the lanes wide open for Rondo to penetrate and finish or kick out to Ray/Pietrus for three or for a mid-range jumper from the 4 or a lob to Hollins or Bass.

          Rondo comes out then Dooling and Pierce come in. That's the lineup I'd worry about most. It's a recipe for Pierce to either drop 14 points in a quarter or shoot us completely out of the game.

  • Kc

    AB works bc he differentiates the offense and excels at D. By that I mean he is a cutter on a team of jump shooters. Ray is just another shooter and makes the unit too dependant on outside shots. AB provides just enough going to the basket to make his teammates more effective with their shots. I’m not concerned about Ray as a 6 th man, he is a great shooter and will hit shots no matter who throws the pass. He’d be goto guy for the bench mob, they need that to take pressure off everyone else.

  • ripsonics

    I've said it once and I'll say it again: Ray Allen needs to come off the bench, and I really believe that he will be ok with it.

    You can look here: http://www.celticsblog.com/2012/4/1/2918358/ray-a

    Ray wants to win – and he would do anything necessary to help the team win. I think it needs to be done, and if Doc is really coaching at his best right now (which you cannot really argue that he isnt) I don't think he'd make the mistake of moving bradley back to the bench.

    PLEASE MAKE THE RIGHT MOVE DOC. If Ray Allen's biggest fan (me) believes he should come off the bench, into a smaller role, then you should probably consider it….hah

    Go C's!

  • lakershater13

    I have said it before and ill say it again. I was the one who said don’t send AB to nola in the west trade. I am so glad we didn’t and he showed how talented he can be.

    • James Patrick

      But AB wasn't the same player off the bench. Glad we didn't trade him, Hopefully he continues to start.

  • James Patrick

    AB has really found his groove as a starter. Why do we want to mess with that chemistry?

    I think we ride it as far as it'll take us. See what Ray is like off the bench.

    And last I checked we had a 5 game winning streak. ;)

  • red

    The controversy has begun.

  • ElRoz

    Well, Ray would be coming back in some limited time…gradually, so that's a good time to have him off the bench, especially with Pietrus out. However, having Ray Allen along with Dooling and Sasha Pavlovic on the floor, means you got 3 guys that don't penetrate that much, three guys that prefer the outside game. I think Ray Allen needs to be on the floor with Rondo and Pierce – he need to have these two guys in order to have quality shots.

  • Alex

    Ray would really benefit from coming off of the bench. he would be playing against tired starters or bench players..

    Bradley needs to be with the first unit because he is young and fast and will be able to keep up with young+quick+athletic teams. Rondo seems to love playing alongside Bradley. it's probably nice for him to be able to run the court with another athlete besides Bass

  • High Rollers

    Comparison:

    1. Offense

    When AB plays with Rondo, the opponent isn’t playing either guy honest. Guys play off Rondo opening up lanes galore and either don’t account for AB or simply lose him b/c he’s Fast with a capital F. That’s the magical combo. One gets freed to distribute while the other becomes invisible to everyone but his teammates… that is, until he puts home yet another layup/dunk. And this is in the half-court O!

    When Ray plays with Rondo everyone and his brother knows not to leave Ray. It’s still easier said than done, and when the C’s are patiently moving the ball, still pretty much deadly. (Imagine chasing Ray Allen in circles and figure-eights, hitting ‘bows and hips and generally getting tangled up with KG, Paul, Steamer, MP, etc… and then seeing that 3-ball, corner pocket for the umpteenth time. Especially in the fourth quarter, that must have a devastating effect.) It’s sort of a high risk bet these days, especially during scoring droughts, because of the defensive honesty on Shuttlesworth. But it’s also high reward… especially in frantic, down-to-the-wire fourth quarters.

    2. Defense

    AB’s not tall, but he’s fast and steadfast. He does what all great defenders do, brings superstars back down to earth enough to change the tone of a game. And he sparks transition points with his monster D — something we used to see a lot more of from the C’s. (I guess it was TA back then. Grit and grind, baby!)

    Everybody on the Celtics looks great on D individually when the team as a whole is clicking and playing on a string (and when #5 is present and accounted for). Ray’s no exception. He’s obviously not AB, but he doesn’t need to be. He brings other things.

    If anything, one is a relief from the shortcomings of the other. You still want Ray out there especially on O in the last two minutes of the game. He’s an assassin. But two minutes is a long time, long enough to plug AB in for defensive/energy purposes. (Not to mention he’ll probably be more controlled in that position than TA often was.)

    I think AB’s confidence is real now and not likely to seep away into the cracks of the bench. He’ll just be hungry to recreate the magic at whatever time on the clock.

  • tbunny

    People talking about Dooling or Pavlovic having minutes: those guys will barely play in the playoffs. Doc is going to have 8-9 man rotation max in the playoffs. The above analysis is good and I think the team would probably be better with Allen as 6th man. I think Allen would be more productive there too. I say that as someone who hopes Ray retires as a Celtic.

  • CelticsBIG3

    John Shumann's Power Rankings for this week… Well, well, well…

    "6 Boston (30-22)
    Pace: 92.8 (20), Off: 98.6 (25), Def: 95.8 (2)
    The Celtics couldn't have had a better start to their rough April schedule, crushing the Heat in the first of their three meetings this month. Now it's not so hard to think they'll keep that Atlantic Division lead. Incredibly, they've allowed fewer than 90 points per 100 possessions in six of their last eight games.
    Previous: 11"

    A few nuggets from the current defensive pace in the NBA right now…

    Def: 94.9 (1) – Philadelphia
    Def: 95.8 (2) – Boston
    Def: 96.2 (3) – Chicago
    Def: 97.3 (4) – New York (What?! Really? Tyson Chandler is making a difference for sure)
    Def: 97.4 (5) – Miami
    Def: 99.9 (9) – Los Angeles Lakers

    With a few more qualities wins and a date with Philly on Sunday (I'll be there!), we could be looking at having statistically AND figuratively the league's best defense again. Thats really good timing if I don't say so myself.

  • Daniel L

    Guys, is this even a serious conversation?

    We are talking about a tiny sample size of 5-6 games with Bradley starting vs The whole season with Ray.

    -You are basing way too much on + / – when in reality the majority of this is due to the CELTICS streaks. Are you really arguing that the Celtics win streak is DUE TO Avery Bradley starting??? That if Allen had started instead, the Celtics would have not won those games???

    -The Celtics in the games that Bradley has started are in a groove. Not because of Bradley (or lack of Allen) but bc of names like Rondo, Pierce, Garnett (etc) playing stellar Basketball. The C's have been winning and a part of it is because of AB. But don't get it confused, AB is just a small part to a whole.

    -Correlation does NOT equal causation.

    -This is not to say that Allen may not be more productive in the second unit, or score more. He may in fact be okay, or even prefer coming off the bench, which is fine. I am not disputing what Doc decides is best for the team. But to think, he would give AB the starting nod over a HOF and time-tested ray allen, out of pure "who is better"…. You are out of your minds. Sorry.

    -in statistics you need a sample size of at least 30 to be able to draw a conclusion, otherwise way too much may be due to error. Lets have this convo after AB starts 30 games. then we can compare the two players fairly.

    -Lastly, this is my opinion and not an argument (or valid point at all)…. but I think AB is getting the Jeremy Lin affect. He is a no-name that is getting overlooked, so Chalmers cheats off him to double team, allowing him to cut and get easy buckets due to Rondo's mastery. If and when teams respect AB's game as much as Ray's, I doubt he would be able to get more than 5 points a game. Allen earns every point with one man guarding him, who does not take his eyes off Allen all game while on Defense. Defenders respect Allen's game, and hawk him on D, and yet he is able to score a respectable total on a fairly consistent basis. I personally dont believe AB could do the same….

    • CelticsBIG3

      There is a huge difference between running to the basket on cuts and what Lin does, HUGE.

      • noche

        This point has been made – AB is in no way like Jeremy Lin, he was considered one of the best players in HS and would have been a top 10 draft pick if he hadn't been injured his freshman year at Texas. He's more of just a kid coming into his potential.

        You also say "But to think, he would give AB the starting nod over a HOF and time-tested ray allen, out of pure "who is better"…. You are out of your minds. Sorry. " That's not the right question, because obviously Ray Allen is better. The question should be who is a better fit.

        I think you add AB to the first unit to make them more athletic and stronger defensively and Ray Ray to the second unit to give them more fire power and to wean Ray back from his injury. I don't see why doc wouldn't give it a try for a few games before the playoffs.

    • CG12

      You make some good points, but undervalue Avery. He has shown that he is a very capable jump-shooter, and can also use his elite athleticism to score at the rim off cuts and in transition. He will be a 10+ ppg scorer in this league. His D is sooo much better than Ray's. The weakness of a Ray-Rondo perimeter D has been a significant issue for the Cs this season.

      That being said, Ray brings things to the table that Avery does not. His shooting opens things up so much for other players. And the ability to confidently take, and often make, tough late-game shots is a huge asset.

      I think that it is a legitimate question whether Avery or Ray would give the Cs more total value over a statistically significant stretch of games and minutes. Ray might be the choice, but it isn't crazy to talk about it. It would have seemed totally nuts before Avery's stint starting for Rondo and this stretch starting for Ray.

  • Morpheus

    All i know is Ray operates best when he's in with Rondo, heck nearly everyone on this team does. So if Doc decides to bring Ray off the bench, he'll need to readjust his rotations so that when Ray checks in Rondo is in with him for a majority of the time.

    Personally i would prefer having Ray come off the bench and i'm a huge Ray Allen fan, but a Cs fan first and foremost.

  • tbunny

    With smaller rotations it seems a no brainer to have Rondo, Bradley, and Allen taking most or all of the guard minutes. That gives you 96 minutes for the three so like up to 40 for Rondo and 25-30 for Bradley and Allen. That will give Allen plenty of time to play with Rondo, and Bradley is no slouch at hitting Ray on the wing either. That's a great rotation and should have Celtics fans very excited, although contender talk is still premature.

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