Nine years ago the Boston Celtics used the 25th pick in the 2004 draft to select a scrappy off guard from Chicago named Tony Allen. Before eventually evolving into the game-changing defensive Nightcrawler he is today, the primary focus of fans and most media members around town pointed at his inconsistent offense. Allen was awarded the not-so-flattering nickname of “Trick-or-Treat Tony” in honor of his mysterious fascination with missing open court layups and ill-timed mid-range jumpers.
Six years later—one season after the Celtics let Allen walk in free agency—Boston used the 19th pick in the 2010 draft to select Avery Bradley, a scrappy off guard from Washington.
Today, both are considered elite on-ball perimeter defenders; the last of a dying breed, excelling at a skill every general manager in the league would kill for. But on the other end, things continue to be an unfortunate adventure for them both. This isn’t to say Bradley will always find hardship with the ball in his hands, but from where he’s at right now, a ton of areas need improvement.
We know Bradley can be an offensive threat. We saw flashes and even a few extended stretches when it was forced upon him last year. But overall, this season, he’s been disappointing, stricken with more responsibilities than he can handle like making plays off the dribble (non-existent), initiating the offense (pedestrian), and putting pressure on the defense (a roller-coaster ride).
His basic per game numbers are concerning: 8.5 points, 1.5 assists, 0.8 free-throw attempts. He’s shooting just below 30% on three-pointers and just below 40% overall. (Both are REALLY bad considering his low volume.) And since his debut on January 2, the Celtics have scored 3.4 fewer points per 100 possessions with Bradley on the court than off it.
With Rajon Rondo, Bradley was locked into a role of comfort—running to the corner to spot up for a three (he still ranks third among all players with 2.3 threes from the corner per game this season), and roaming the baseline in the half-court. He was a natural away from the ball. He was Bruce Bowen 6.0.
Despite sparkling on the defensive end with unrivaled foot speed and reflexes that would make a cat cry, Bradley has yet to evolve as an effective player attacking the basket, getting his shot blocked at a rate that compares with the highest in the league. His struggles finishing the ball in traffic have gotten to the point where he’d rather settle for a pull up mid-range jumper—whether it be off a screen or running the floor with a live dribble in transition—than attack the paint.
There are dozens of examples that look exactly like the play below. Defenses baiting Bradley to pull up for a wide open jump shot and him gladly accepting the invitation.
This isn’t necessarily a terrible thing, especially when they’re so open. But sometimes you need a guard who can get to the basket and either draw a foul or finish over the top. Bradley doesn’t/can’t do either.
How about running the pick-and-roll? Well, according to Synergy Sports, 19.2% of his offensive possessions end dribbling off a screen, and over 21.4% of the time he turns it over. When he gets a shot up, it goes in 25.8% of the time. Those numbers are the opposite of promising.
Bradley loves to go right-handed to the point where on some possessions it looks comical. He’ll go in-and-out, use a stutter step, or just put his head down and drive, completely ignoring the other side of his body. Defenders open their feet to force him left, but he’s stubborn. Sometimes this works in his favor, but defenses have already adapted. It’s time for Bradley to do the same.
This basket against the Clippers happened less than a minute into the opening quarter. Bradley finished with four points in the game.
Every so often the defense loses track of him on an off-ball cut to the basket (here’s looking at you, J.R. Smith), but it doesn’t happen nearly enough now that Rondo is gone. We’re beginning to see Bradley miss those point blank attempts against collapsing defenses that aren’t overly committed to whoever’s penetrating.
And how about that non-existent playmaking ability? This season Bradley is averaging one assist every 18 minutes. (Is that even possible?) I re-watched every single one of them. To be fair, he’s very good at finding the open man and hitting him before the defense reacts. But it’s too systematic, reacting to guys as they come off down screens or making basic passes to open teammates in transition.
Guess how many plays this season he’s connected with a roll man for a basket. Give up? One. One play. Guess how many times he’s taken his defender off the dribble then kicked it out to an open shooter for a made basket. That’d be once, too. Bradley has a couple assists at the rim—not counting in transition—and one of them came on a dump off to Fab Melo with a few minutes left in a blowout victory against the Lakers.
It isn’t Bradley’s job to make things happen. But if he wants more playing time (EVERYONE WANTS HIM TO HAVE MORE PLAYING TIME), he needs to shoulder more of the responsibility. This season he’s played over 30 minutes just five times. There are two main reasons for this: 1) He’s foul prone on the defensive end, hounding his man with an aggressive style that forces referees to blow their whistle once or twice out of what sometimes feels like sympathy for the ball-handler, and 2) He’s hurting the offense, especially now that Rondo is gone.
Bradley is only 22 years old, growing and learning to play a position he didn’t sign up for. But if the Celtics are to be successful down the stretch, they’ll need him on the floor as much as possible. And for that to happen, he needs to be the aggressive offensive threat Tony Allen never was.