In today's edition of Countdown to Celtics Camp, KC wonders if Avery Bradley is still an elite defender and if he can be named to the All-Defensive first team.
As a sophomore, Bradley was considered by his peers as one of the league's most feared perimeter defenders, named to the All-Defensive second team.
But he hasn't been given the same honor since, and his defense has regressed statistically and on film. No more are the full-court presses that once made TD Garden erupt into a state of hysteria.
This has left fans, like KC, wondering what happened to Bradley's defense and whether he'll ever approach the level he did as a younger player.
The surprising answer is likely that Bradley's defense actually hasn't degenerated, but his offensive role has evolved, leading to a change in responsibilities.
It's not a coincidence that his best defensive years came on teams that had go-to threats like Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen.
On those rosters Bradley was primarily a spot up shooter and cutter. Remember Bradley's backdoor cuts that always seemed to fool the defense? That was a product of the other weapons on the floor.
In the Brad Stevens era, Bradley has been top five on the team in usage percentage as a go-to option. With a skyrocketing usage, Bradley is expending more energy on his increased offensive possessions as a ball handler or scorer.
More offense can lead to a decrease in defensive efficiency. For example, as Rajon Rondo's role on offense grew, we watched him on defense turn from pit bull to poodle.
Per Synergy, via ESPN's Chris Forsberg, Bradley allowed 0.69 points per possession in his sophomore season, an extraordinary statistic. This past season, Bradley allowed 0.86 points per possession.
This decrease in production is partially due to the team defense - KG isn't patrolling the paint anymore - but it's mostly due to role. Bradley couldn't be the defensive instigator for extended periods of time when he handled the ball so much on offense.
But, what if on a 2015-16 Celtics roster that now has better scorers, Bradley reverts back to his old ways?
Isaiah Thomas will likely handle the ball more than anyone.
David Lee could end up leading the team in usage (don't sleep on Lee).
Amir Johnson should get used heavily in the pick-and-roll.
Jared Sullinger and/or Kelly Olynyk could see an uptick in shot attempts.
Does that bump Bradley down the totem pole on offense?
Consider this: When Bradley occupied the floor with Thomas, Bradley attempted 5.2 fewer shots per 48 minutes. He also averaged 0.6 more steals per 48, which could be indicative of a higher intensity level on defense.
And let's keep in mind: Some players want to cash their checks with their offense, but Bradley is a player who wants to create chaos and make life a living hell for the opponent.
Bradley's effectiveness on defense likely depends on his offensive usage. Role, situation, and environment matter. Bradley might've been the best on-ball defender over the past two years, like he arguably was under Doc Rivers, but his assignments prevented him from performing at that level.
Maybe now, with a new-look 2015-16 roster, we'll see a hybrid version.
If Avery Bradley isn't a primary scoring threat, then it's not unrealistic for him to once again be one of the most terrifying defenders in the NBA, and because of his development over the last two seasons, he could complement his elite defense with more versatile scoring in smaller doses.
Thank you for today's question, KC!