Avery Bradley is currently riding one of the hottest scoring streaks of his career, but his high level shooting production is really nothing new, since he has been performing like an elite three-point shooter for the Boston Celtics going all the way back to late December. Bradley started putting the doubters to sleep on December 23 when he broke out of his slump by hitting 41.2 percent of his threes since then, which ranks 16th of 99 qualifying players.
The 6-foot-2 shooting guard is simply giving us a glimpse behind the curtain of his full potential, which we could see more consistently once he reaches his prime. It's easy to forget that Bradley is just 24-years-old and that his brilliant 8-points-in-27-seconds-sequence like the one on Sunday against the LA Lakers could become more expected than surprising by the time he's 27-years-old.
Bradley has shown us flashes before, but this is really the first time in his career that he's in a situation that will allow him to carry a heavier load of the offense on a regular basis. With Jeff Green now in Memphis and Jared Sullinger sidelined for the rest of the season, Avery Bradley is the de facto number one option in Boston's lineup (at least alongside the co-lead man, Isaiah Thomas).
Prior to Green's departure, Bradley had a usage percentage of 20 and attempted 19.5 field goals per 48 minutes pace adjusted. Since the deal, those numbers have risen to 21.9 percent and 20.9 FGA/48minPA, respectively. It's only a subtle difference, but more plays are being run for a young player that is still developing his game, and he's excelling.
Bradley has experienced a significant efficiency increase in two of his Synergy Sports play types, off screen and hand offs. Last year under Brad Stevens was Bradley's first year utilizing these play types, since in the prior season they accounted for only about five percent of his offensive usage, according to Synergy.
But with a full year under his belt, Bradley has seen a large uptick in his production, as he's hitting shots off the catch after running through a maze of screens, or getting to the basket after receiving a dribble hand off. Of all 57 players with at least 50 possessions off screens, Bradley ranks 25th, which is around the sample's average, but it's a large increase from last year when he was 70th of 83.
Bradley's development curve has been trending upwards the last two years, even though it might not be apparent when watching every Celtics game. But if you were to pick out a few random games from each season, it might be hard to believe you're watching the same player.
Part of the reason for that is simply because Stevens is using him a whole lot differently than Doc Rivers did, partially because of the personnel on the team. However, it's once again worth pointing out once again that Bradley's end-of-2014 stretch of 14 games was a near-perfect indicator of his shot distribution this year. This is something I outlined in an article earlier this season, so I won't bore you with the same information, but it's important to keep an eye on his usage as we approach the end of 2015.
The video above details some off-ball screen actions that are commonly set for Avery Bradley, including a handful of dribble handoffs that resulted in mid-range jumpers. There's nothing wrong with the result of this pet play, but knowing that Bradley is a capable three-point shooter, I'd love to see the Celtics extend those screens to above the break over the course of the rest of the season.
Under Rivers, the Celtics used to set their screens a couple more feet away from the basket, right on the three-point line. This allowed the receiving ball handler (Bradley, in this example) to drive to the rim, pull up from mid-range, pass to a teammate, or attempt a three. But this year's Celtics typically set their screens inside the three-point line, which removes triples as an option, instead limiting options to drives or pull ups.
Here is a video of a similar dribble handoff Rivers used to run for the Celtics out of the half court, as illustrated by SB Nation's own Mike Prada in a 2013 article.
Stevens should consider stretching his dribble handoffs and run them more similarly to how Doc Rivers did, because I don't like limiting an emerging 24-year-old Avery Bradley. The clip of Jason Terry at the 00:12 second mark is one of the better comparisons, because there is no doubt in mind that Bradley is capable of hitting that shot if he's given the opportunity. And if the shot is contested, then he can still drive the closeout and pull up from mid-range, no differently than he already does at a high level.
Considering that Bradley scores 0.907 points per possession on shots from the elbow and high post, with a large bulk of those attempts coming off pull up jumpers via screens and handoffs, I don't think it's out of the question for Bradley to average close to 1 point per possession if he's instead attempting three-pointers from above the break.
That's because the three-pointer is worth one point more than a mid-range jumper, so Bradley would only have to shoot about 31 percent in this play type for it to be worth more points. Bradley's efficiency in Synergy's play types would also increase, and possibly boost him into the "elite" category. While there are more variables to consider (like missed threes resulting in more transition opportunities for the opponent), I firmly believe the benefits outweigh the risks when projecting Bradley's potential.
Bradley experienced a drastic change in shot distribution over the course of his final 14 games last season, and that usage has remained virtually constant in 2014-15. If Brad Stevens and the Boston Celtics begin to experiment and tinker with their plays over the course of the reset of the season, I would hope that Bradley is a player that sees a shift.
Avery Bradley has revealed what he's capable of, so let's hope that the coaching staff pushes to accelerate his development, because it might just benefit them sooner rather than later as they look to make a push for the NBA playoffs.