Avery Bradley's 2015 season didn't end on the best note, with four subpar performances in the playoffs, but he did make positive advancements throughout his entire campaign. As we've been chronicling on CelticsBlog over the past two years, the Celtics have steadily been extending Bradley's shooting range.
After the Celtics signed Bradley to a bargain four-year contract extension he got off to an underwhelming start, but he was only adjusting to a unfamiliar load of the offense with more shots from above the break. Soon enough, Bradley embarked on a month-long stretch as one of the best statistical shooters in the NBA. He sustained a modest level of production into February, but he still wasn't attempting deep threes close to the expected rate.
But after the All-Star break, Bradley's ascension continued when Brad Stevens and the coaching staff called for him to shoot more from above the break. Here's a glance at his shot distribution progress going back to the beginning of the 2013-14 season.
Bradley's deep-three attempts have consistently risen, but they still aren't where they need to be. League-wide, sharpshooters tend to attempt at least 30 percent of their field goals from above the break, but Bradley wasn't in the same ballpark until the second half of the season.
That's because Boston's "pet play," a dribble handoff to Bradley, was usually run with the goal being a mid-range two, and not a three.
Whether you realize it or not, you've seen the Celtics run that play hundreds of times last season. It'd usually end up with a mid-range shot and sometimes Bradley would dump it off to the screener or drive all the way to the rim.
But what didn't happen frequently enough were quick three-point attempts off the handoffs. Here's a look at Klay Thompson draining triples out of a similar set:
Thompson is one of the NBA's elite shooters and obviously Bradley isn't in his class, but that doesn't mean the Celtics can't aim to utilize him in a similar manner as a means of developing that area of his game. Bradley has consistently improved when given substantial opportunity to try something new, such as his transition from a run of the mill spot up shooter to a threat off screens and handoffs.
Bradley was only shooting 31.7 percent from above the break heading into the ASB this season, but the Celtics still ramped up his usage from that area, since it provided better spacing for the team, and as a means of developing that area of his game heading into next year.
The Celtics began extending that same dribble handoff out a few more feet, which gave Bradley the chance to shoot from three instead of curling all the way around to mid-range.
With an increase in opportunity came an increase in production, as Bradley shot 35 percent from above the break for the rest of the season. Bradley experienced a similar surge in attempts from downtown towards the end of 2014, which carried over into 2015. If the Celtics follow suit, then we should expect a similar distribution of his shots at the beginning of this season.
But maybe the Celtics would be wise to accelerate Bradley's progress more quickly this year, since he has proven in spurts that he is capable of knocking down shots from above the break. Again, he isn't in the same class of some of the NBA's true great shooters, but maybe he's not as far off as we think and all he needs is the opportunity.
And besides, no matter how solid Bradley was from mid-range this past season, it's still not as preferable as him shooting threes off those dribble handoffs. Including all play types, Bradley shot 42.3 percent from mid-range to 33.2 percent from above the break, but the threes are still worth more (0.99 PPS to 0.85 PPS).
Here is what Bradley's shot distribution could look like over the next two seasons.
If the Celtics are serious about spreading the floor, then they'll reduce Bradley's mid-range attempts and increase his looks everywhere else. It's reasonable expect a decrease to some degree, though that also depends on how the rest of the personnel changes on the team.
But the bottom-line is that the Celtics can't have Bradley shooting mid-range jumpers at the same rate they did last season, with only six other players attempting more of them. Looking far ahead to 2017, the Celtics will ideally not have Bradley in a feature role, which would mean he'd more frequently be spotting up from above the break, with the dribble handoff plays going to the "star."
There is no guarantee that Avery Bradley is able to develop into a 36 or 37 three-point shooter from above the break, but his history as a proficient shooter going back to high school suggests that he's capable. At just 24-years-old, Bradley has time to develop, but if he isn't able to do it consistently after next season the Boston Celtics might have to look for a player that can in order to take their team to the next level.