Avery Bradley is a difficult player to evaluate. Watch him live and you see a blue-collar on-ball defender that opposing guards hate to play against. You see a developed offensive talent that went from being too shy to dribble the ball his rookie year to comfortably coming off dribble hand-offs and nailing jumpers. This year, Avery Bradley even took it a step further. After feeling disrespected by Bulls All-Star guard Jimmy Butler, Bradley went out in game 6 and matched Butler’s production offensively while hounding him into so many difficult looks that even Butler admitted that he lost the matchup. Then, to everyone’s surprise, Bradley showed some fire in a postgame press conference that put everyone on notice. Avery Bradley is not to be messed with.
It may not have been that noticeable, but Avery Bradley had a career year this season. During the regular season, he posted career bests in points, rebounds, and three-point percentage. He then followed that up with career-best marks in field goal percentage, three-point percentage, rebounds, assists, and steals, while posting his second-highest points per game mark in the postseason.
But that’s only one side of the Bradley story.
He still boasted a negative BPM, the team is statistically better defensively when he was off the floor, and he had a worse on/off mark then Isaiah Thomas, whose defensive struggles have been very well noted. The easy thing to do is point to the fact that Avery Bradley played a lot of minutes during those blowout losses to the Wizards, Cavaliers, and Bulls. You could argue that a majority of the minutes he doesn’t play are against another teams’ second unit, which in the case of the Wizards series has a lot merit. You could point to the fact that he defends the opposing team’s best guard who most nights is their best player and that he shares a court with Isaiah Thomas for a majority of his minutes. But this isn’t some anomaly. This has been the Avery Bradley experience for three years. And hey, at under 9 million dollars per year it’s a fun thought-provoking topic, but at the over 20 million dollars that Bradley figures to command next offseason, we call that a liability.
But this is still Avery Bradley we’re talking about. The longest tenured Celtic and the last memory of the big 3 era. His reputation speaks for himself, but does it actually speak louder than his game? The two levels that have always led the narrative on Avery Bradley are the eye test and the numbers.
The eye test claims that Avery Bradley got better. He hits more of his threes, he rebounds the ball, and he still plays amazing defense. The numbers say that although he’s hitting at a higher percentage than last year, he’s actually taking fewer threes but hitting at the same level. Following that, Bradley’s “long two” issue has for the second year in a row gone from looking like it was just about eradicated in the preseason to becoming a comfort place for Bradley by the end of the playoffs.
Though his rebounds leaped up to a career-high 6.1 rpg during the regular season, that number dropped to 3.9 rpg in the playoffs, after the Celtics went away from the “bigs box, guards crash” strategy. Also, does anyone remember the promise Avery Bradley showed as a pick-and-roll passer in the preseason?
Bradley followed it up by barely increasing his assist rate (from 2.1 to 2.2), then he plummeted to the 12th percentile as a scorer in the pick and roll after getting to the 61st percentile during the regular season.
In the end, you’re left with a player who, though has a reputation as a legitimate on-ball defender, doesn’t make his team better defensively. He’s a player who developed a jump shot and in theory spaces the floor, yet the team scores the at the same level whether he’s on or off the floor. The evidence leaves you with the fact that Avery Bradley has actually peaked already, and what we’re seeing is the best we’re going to get.
That then leaves you with two questions: Is Bradley someone starting on a championship team? And can the Celtics afford to pay Avery Bradley $20 million next season while trying to build a contender? The answer to both of these questions is no.
What’s next for Avery Bradley?
The Celtics will not only be looking to clear cap space for a max slot, but they’ll also be looking to limit their inevitable tax bill. The best way to do that is to trade Avery Bradley in a deal where you can take back limited contracts and be able to get a pick. Maybe that means trading him to Philadelphia, who has long coveted Bradley’s services. Maybe that means trading him to the Pistons, who have been rumored to be interested in a veteran, or the Timberwolves, who could use that type of skill set in their backcourt. The Avery Bradley market should have no shortage of suitors. In a league dominated by guards, teams increasingly could use a player who can force players like John Wall, Damien Lillard, Steph Curry, and Jimmy Butler into tough nights.
Avery Bradley is not a lost cause. He was a 6th man asked to be a third option for a 50-win team, and he did an awesome job. However, the combination of adding Markelle Fultz, the ridiculous tax bill that keeping him would cost, and the fact that his production hasn’t translated to a substantial impact of winning makes cutting ties with Bradley the most practical approach.