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Is Avery Bradley An Offensive Liability?

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.

Twitter: @MichaelVPina

  • High Rollers

    Very few guys impact both ends of the floor in a positive way regardless of who else is out there. Like, few as in superstars. (And even they have “liability” nights on one end or the other.) along these lines I was watching K-Irving at the ASG and noticed his D left something to be desired. Okay, not your best example, but it speaks to guys’ natural inclination for one end or the other. Anyway, AB will get better.

    • KillerGymRat

      Have to agree with you. The expectations for this roster seem to be a bit unrealistic at times. There are indeed very few players who impact both ends of the floor. When a guy is elite as an offensive or defensive threat, you've already got something beyond what the average player brings to the court.

      It's also unfair to treat anyone's numbers on this team as a true indicator of performance. We may well be leading the league in the variety of starting line-ups we've used. We have dramatically changed the offense and lost key personal in dramatic fashion.

      So let's sum it up like this: A 22 yr old who is just coming off double shoulder surgery, is running a brand new offense at a position outside his comfort zone, on a team that is missing an all-star PG, it's best rebounder and a key rotation player…and he's struggling a bit to find his shot and develop his offensive game….

      Is that really surprising and newsworthy? Give the guy a break. Who knows how much his play is effected by the surgery alone.

      He definitely needs to improve. But improvement looks like this…a guy missing shots and finding out what his game is lacking so he can improve in the off season. If he's still like this next year, in a consistent offense, playing his preferred position, with a full team, then yeah, he's likely hit his ceiling and perhaps a liability.

      • Sophomore

        He's 22, and he's missed a lot of ball. I hope he's still on the Cs when he's at his peak a few years from now. I see a guy who's smart and works hard; he projects as a defensive monster who's above average at a well-defined offensive role.

      • High Rollers

        Well put, KillerGymRat.

  • High Rollers

    P.S. I miss Rondo. Had to YouTube best plays last night. Don’t trade our guys, Danny.

  • Phil725

    While I'm as big of an AB fan as there is, I've definitely noticed all of the concerning things listed here. Bradley's season from an offensive perspective can be looked at as anything from a setback to a major red flag. I don't want to underrate the shoulder injuries; that's a big time injury that took a long time to recover from (that still could be affecting him somewhat,) and more importantly, he wasn't able to do any real basketball activity until he was actually put on the court. That said, he also only displayed a couple months of a quality offensive game last year (after being a non-factor for the first four months of the year.) Even assuming he's been cold this year, what if he was just hot last year? It has to worry you.

    I joked before that the best part of Bradley's offensive game was sharing the court with passers like Rondo, KG and Pierce, and that was something that worried me once Rondo went down. Bradley may develop into an off the dribble threat someday, but I'd consider it unlikely, and he's definitely not one now. He has to be a good spot up shooter to be useful on offense. That means hitting those 3s that he's been clanking all year. There's still enough passing on the court that he'll get easy buckets otherwise once teams have to respect him from deep, but they don't have to respect him if he's hitting under 30% from deep. To put it simply; hit the corner 3 and everything is good. Without it, he's a defensive role player.

    • Morpheus

      I'm with you on this. I have been patient with AB to slowly get his rhythm and breath back, but he has been a bit disappointing on offense. I LOVE AB, who doesn't, but the problems are there like Pina pointed out. You can't just put on your AB goggles and turn a blind eye to his offensive struggles this season.

      He just doesn't have the offensive arsenal to be a true offensive threat. Will he become one in time? I don't know. He needs to be smarter, craftier to avoid getting his shots blocked so much. And if he isn't hitting his stride on offense he really doesn't bring anything else on that end either like making plays, setting up teammates, getting to the FT line, being effective off ball.

      I think he's still dusting off some rust from his shoulder surgery which would mean a strong finish to the 2nd half of the season.

      • Phil725

        Well, there's a big jump from threat to liability. If the offense could stay afloat at their normal level of productivity while he was out there, that would be enough to let his defensive value shine through. I don't think the team is counting on his offense at all, so if he's neutral on that side of the ball, that's probably all he needs to be.

        When I think about his game, I'm inclined to think he'll never be a true threat offensively… but that's pretty much what he was last year. On a lineup of great passers and shooters, it was easy to lose him for a couple threes and a cut or two a game, and he made them pay enough that those points added up to a ridiculous offensive efficiency that the team hasn't come close to reaching this year. It may be a liberal definition of 'threat', but I keep coming back to those corner 3s. A player who knocks down one or two of those a game is hugely valuable. On the flip side, a guy who can't hit those cramps spacing and makes everything harder for the rest of the team. That's what we've seen so far this year. Maybe the difference between threat and liability isn't that big after all.

        -and yes, that's how you refute your own point by the time you finish a post 😛

  • High Rollers

    He’s predominantly a defensive catalyst (role player isn’t the right label for what this guy does for the defense) regardless of whether he raises his fg% (knock on wood he does). He’s going to thrive best alongside a feisty and talented floor general who in turn will benefit from AB’s all out energy.

    • Phil725

      Setting aside arbitrary labels like role player (which really do cloud up discussions like this,) my hope for him is that he becomes more than a defensive catalyst. I don't think any guard, regardless of how ridiculously talented they are, can be the same type of defensive presence that a big like KG can be. That alone limits how much of an effect he can have on that side of the ball. If who he is right now is who he is; ~25 minutes a night of hawking ball pressure and a ~3 point negative offensively, he's a valuable player to have on your team, but there's a reason that Terry plays over him in crunch time.

      We saw what he could be last year if his shot is falling. If he shoots 50% from the field and 40% from 3 like he did, even in limited volume, he becomes a big positive on the offense in addition to everything he's doing defensively. It compounds because not only are you adding a good player to the offense, you're taking away current AB, who as the title of the post hints, is currently a liability on that side.

      • CG12

        50/40 would be phenomenal. Even at 45/35 he'd be a big offensive plus.

        • Phil725

          That's a good point; we're talking about an elite defensive player not hurting the offense, not a draft prospect in a vacuum. He doesn't have to shoot 'that' well to be a very helpful player. He just needs to be better than he's been this year, because then he starts to neutralize his own defense.

  • High Rollers

    This time without Rondo should really show him where he has serious room for improvement, just as it was the other way around. Hopefully the learning comes with hard earned wins as well.

  • Guest

    Well I won't say he's a liability, it's not like he takes like freaking 13 shts in one night. I mean if he's a a liability, what is Terry? What are KG and Pierce when they are cold? Don't concern with AB's offensive game, he's a defensive player first and it ain't like he asked to be put in the PG position when he clearly ain't a PG, I mean at least he's making amends on defense

    • Ramon

      He took 16 tonight

  • Banner 18

    Give AB a break. He deserves it.
    1: AB has a nice touch, is not afraid to shoot, and his offense will come. Supposedly, he is deadly in shootarounds, and very good in practices. His game shooting percentage will increase as he plays more games.
    2: Taking the ball to the hoop in the NBA and finishing is not easy because of the length, speed and vertical leap of defenders. A few guards have that ability when they come into the league, but most have to learn it. Some never do. But AB is such a good defender that he will get the necessary playing time, and should learn to finish.
    3: I STILL don't trust TA not to turn it over at a critical moment, though he has improved on offense.

    All the best,
    Banner 18

  • vinaldo7

    sorry but as far as i am concerned in basketball there is NO SUCH THING as someone being an offensive liability. there are 5 men on the court at any one time and if one cant score then the other 4 should be able to… there are ONLY defensively liable players in my eyes, as for a defence to work, you need your guards, small forward and centre to all be in tune. i exempt the 4 guard from this because i think of all the positions, that is the one which you could argue can be helped by the 3 for pace and by the 5 for size.

    and all that being said… AVERY IS NOT AN OFFENSIVE LIABILITY, what you have to ask yourself is where do you want your 2 guard to score from. if you just want him to shoot 3s… well you should have made a better effort to keep ray… avery brings fast breaks, nice cuts as well as a nice long range 2… yes… AND THE ODD CORNER 3

  • Mac3

    Last I checked Defense wins championship

  • Portceltic

    Let's not forget he's coming off operations to BOTH shoulders, so naturally his stroke is off.

    I don't think Bradley will be known as high percentage 16/23 ft. shooter, but I suspect as he gains more experience he'll be able to get to his strong spots on the floor with RR setting the table.

    As far as I can see, AB is playing the role that he is capable and asked to play. His primary role is to disrupt, which he excels at. What I like about his game is he isn't scared to take the big shot, and he's made some timely buckets like the win in NY.

    • Sophomore

      Yes. He's a hard worker with athletic talent. Bruce Bowen seems well within reach if he continues to work hard.

      • Portceltic

        Good analogy … and Lindsey Hunter.

        Baring injury AB should have a long career in spite of his offensive liabilities.

  • CG12

    I am very confident that Avery will be a plus offensive player. During the run into the playoffs last year, he shot over 50% from the field and from 3. Sure, that was likely somewhat due to him being on a hot streak, but you need to be good enough to even have a hot streak in the first place. A guy with no skills can't go a full month in the NBA torching the twine. Avery is still searching for his comfort zone, just like he was early last year. My gut feeling is that he is experiencing some growing pains because he is looking for his offense much more aggresively, for better or worse. His shot looks really flat. He is a very good spot-up shooter, but has been shooting much more off the bounce, and doing so less effectively. But he can shoot it, and it will come around at some point.

    • Phil725

      Hot streaks like that can happen. There was a 2 month stretch to start the 10-11 season where Shannon Brown led the league in 3pt percentage and shot 50% from the field. That led to Lakers fans everywhere overreacting and flipping out… only he turned back into Shannon Brown from there, and for the rest of his career he's been a 33% 3pt shooter who hits around 42% from the floor.

      Not saying that Bradley is going to follow the same path, but a couple months doesn't mean you're destined for greatness. He'll need to cope with worse shots for this year without Rondo, but getting close to what he posted last year would be huge.

      • CG12

        Dude – I am going to have to ask you not to refer to Shannon Brown anywhere in the vicinity of Avery, lest the mere mention contaminate AB. The thought is making me twitch. You are, of course, right that hot streaks like that can and do happen with guys who never get near that level again. But not that often. For most guys who have had streaks like that, the regression to the mean is a little less brutal.

        • CG12

          I am, nonetheless, not that worried about Avery. I said it at the beginning of last year, too. The guy has a nice-looking shot and takes the right kind of shots. The book on Avery was always that he could shoot the hell out of the ball from a stand-still. Shannon Brown was always an athlete first and has terrible shot selection, like worst in the league bad. When he was scuffling last year, he was pressing to get a feel for the flow of the game. I think he is doing a bit of the same thing this year. He needs to find the balance between being assertive and being in rhythm. I believe he will do so, but, given that he is easily the weakest ball-handler of the Cs current 3-guard core, he may feel the loss of Rondo more than anybody else on the team. A spot-up shooter needs someone to get him the ball.

          • Phil725

            Shot selection is definitely a big key to Bradley's game, and it was arguably his biggest strength last year. I've called him the Tyson Chandler of guards before; no one's going to confuse him for Kyrie Irving, but let him take most of his shots as wide open corner 3s and on passes under the basket, and he suddenly becomes a useful offensive player in addition to his defense. Tyson Chandler is very limited offensively, but he's a great roll guy in the PnR, and that adds up for a few points a game, and he ends up shooting almost 70% because he doesn't try to do anything he can't. The roll action leads to defenses crashing down and opening up 3s, just like AB's game leads to space and more driving lanes for everyone else.

            That's what worries me most about how the Rondo injury will affect him. I don't like AB pull up 18 footers off the dribble, and I've seen way too many of those since he's had his role forcibly increased. His best role is what he did last year, and I'm not sure if he can still do that without Rondo.

            And just to be clear, I wasn't comparing him to Shannon Brown. He was just the first extended hot streak that came to my mind. You don't need to convince me that Shannon Brown is terrible.

          • CG12

            You were quite clear that you were not comparing Avery to Shannon Brown. My intention was to provide some context for why I think Avery's hot streak last year was reflective of his abilities, and not a random statistical outlier, as Brown's streak certainly appears to have been.

            I have very mixed feelings about the Bradley now-semi-patented dribble left and pull up for an 18-footer. I like the confidence, but that is what feels like pressing. He will make some, but that is certainly not among the highest value shots he can get. At times he shoots it really smoothly, but he seems to be short, with a flat arc, the majority of the time these days. Not sure why.

          • Phil725

            The most encouraging thing about Bradley's stretch last year from a fluke/not a fluke perspective is how he doesn't really have an established career mark from 3 outside of that. I looked up his numbers to see if he shot a lot early in the year and struggled, but he just didn't shoot. He took less than a 3 every two games before going into the starting lineup (and then shot over 50% on over two attempts a game.) From that perspective, his hot shooting basically coincided with his first real chance.

            We're not talking about a guy with an established 3pt% who got hot, and that makes me feel a lot better. For now, I'm blaming some combination of the shoulder injury and the Rondo injury. I still hope he adjusts and pulls out of this slump soon though.

  • hydrofluoric

    For all the talk about Lee/Terry/Barbosa being so much happier in the spread offense where they get to handle the ball more, I think Avery is the guard who hurts the most, by far, without Rondo. Look at last season when they were tearing up the league. No one on the roster is educated enough now to produce opportunities for those sweet baseline cuts and to deliver the perfect pass for the corner 3 like Rondo did last year.

  • Jamie

    basketball is about more than just scoring points. We're not asking him to be the top 3 options on the floor most nights so as long as he's not completely bricking 10 shots a night it's not a big deal.

  • The Cardinal

    I wonder if he prefers pulling up for the short jumpers because of a reflexive ( and somewhat understandable) aversion to getting pummeled and injured again considering his history? If so, it's probably going to take some time before he consistently tries to finish at the rim without flinching/backing off. If he can get back to the point where he's willing to take the contact at the rim, I would expect to see both his shooting percentage increase by 3% or 4% as well as trips to the free throw line.

    If he can improve his ball handling skills over the summer (maybe work with John Lucas at his camp or something similar), he really does have the potential to be a game changer on both ends with "potential" being the operative word. As for now, I believe his presence on the floor at the end of games will be dictated by game-to-game circumstances.