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Ray vs. Bradley: Who Should Start?

Is there controversy brewing over who should start at shooting guard for the Celts? It's a story as old as sports itself: the hungry, energetic youngster trying to supplant the wily grey-haired veteran. In this case, those roles are filled by Avery "not a bust anymore" Bradley and Ray "best shooter of all-time" Allen. When asked about the subject, Ray was at least open-minded to the idea of backing up Bradley. While Doc wasn't sure who he would start as of last night, today he is sticking with Ray, at least for the short term:

With Allen and Bradley, C's Have Options - Marc D'Amico -

Barring any setbacks, Allen will start tomorrow night, leaving the suddenly-hot Bradley fire things up as the top guard off the bench. ...

"I think he’ll be great," Rivers said of Bradley returning to a reserve role. "We’re going to try to sub guys a little differently to keep the combinations the same."

And therein lies the beauty of this situation. Rivers now has even more options and combinations than he did before, thanks in large part to Bradley’s emergence at the offensive end of the court.

Coming from a coach with a reputation for respecting his veterans, this is no surprise. However, is Doc making the right choice? First, a look at some numbers.

In 15 games as a starter, Bradley is averaging 10.1 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 2.1 assists on 48.8% shooting. The Celts are 11-4 in games Bradley starts, including winning their past five games with Bradley in the role of starting shooting guard. Overall, the team is 17-4 when Bradley gets 15+ minutes. In the past five games, Bradley is averaging 14.6 points, 3.5 rebounds and 52.8% shooting while playing lockdown defense (0.72 points allowed per possession, 33rd in the NBA).

On the other hand, Ray is averaging 14.6 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 46.3% shooting, and 45.9% 3PT%. The team is 10-1 in games Ray doesn't play, and is 20-21 with Ray as a starter, although the Celts are 8-4 in his last 12 games. Also, it's hard to fault Ray for many of the losses, as the team's early struggles seemed to have more to do with the team's injuries than they did with any fault of Ray's. Fans criticize Ray's defense, but he's been very good on that end this year, ranking 65th in the NBA in terms of points allowed per possession.

The really amazing numbers come when you compare lineups where Bradley is in place of Ray, though:

Rondo-Ray-Pierce-Bass-KG: 103.89 offensive rating, 101.78 defensive rating, +2.11 overall in 268.68 minutes

Rondo-Bradley-Pierce-Bass-KG: 115.43 offensive rating, 88.04 defensive rating, +27.38 overall in 96.97 minutes.

(More after the jump...)

Although it's a limited sample size, the team has played much, much better on both ends with Bradley in the lineup over Ray. While there are a lot of good arguments that can be made about how Ray's shooting opens up the floor and helps the offense, it seems like Bradley's athleticism, speed, and instincts for cutting to the basket is benefiting the offense and allowing it to operate at a impressive clip.

At the same time, numbers or not, Ray has been a big part of this team's playoff successes, including a title and another trip to the Finals. There's just no way that a second year player can be asked to replicate what Ray has achieved. Additionally, while some argue that moving Ray to the bench would improve that unit's production, keep in mind that benching Ray would take a weapon away from Rondo, while Ray's efficiency would surely go down when asked to create his own offense, rather than getting set up by our all-star point guard.

Perhaps it won't matter much in terms of who starts, so long as Bradley is solidly part of the rotation. Also, there's something to be said for standing strongly behind your veterans. However, for the first time since the "big three" came together, I'm starting to seriously think it might make sense to mix things up a bit. The team has looked amazing with Bradley, and until he looks to be in over his head, I'd be inclined to let him retain the role he's flourishing in, especially if Ray is willing to embrace a sixth man role.

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