Boston Celtics: Week in Review
Losses: 124-118 @ Cleveland
Draft and development of players – in any salary cap league – is essential for long-term success, and ultimately winning championships.
We’ve been fortunate to see it in Boston on countless occasions.
Zdeno Chara anchored the Bruins’ stringent defensive unit during the team’s 2010-11 Stanley Cup run, however, without the efforts of Milan Lucic, David Krejci, and Patrice Bergeron (all drafted and developed by the Bruins) they would not have been able to win hockey’s biggest prize.
The New England Patriots’ 2014 Super Bowl run was boosted by a much improved defense, which included the free agent signing of one of the game’s best cornerbacks at the time in Darrelle Revis. Yet, without the advanced scouting, along with the proper coaching to get him in a position to succeed in the biggest play of the Super Bowl, West Alabama’s Malcolm Butler would not have been able to complete one of the greatest plays in sports history.
In the NBA, the general consensus is that unless you have a top-10 pick, you won’t be able to find great players.
Players like Draymond Green and Isaiah Thomas – second round selections – have bucked that trend somewhat, yet the success rate of drafted players remains the same – the chances of screwing up are far less greater at the top of the selection board.
The Celtics have been blessed with a cupboard full of draft collateral in recent seasons, yet the success rate of those players selected remains to be seen.
The Celtics made six draft selections in last year’s NBA Draft, yet only No. 3 overall pick Jaylen Brown finds himself on Boston’s active roster, as the rest of the bunch finds themselves overseas (Zizic and Yabusele), in Maine (Jackson and Nader), or on no NBA team (Bentil is playing in China).
Jordan Mickey couldn’t crack Brad Stevens’ rotation with Al Horford sidelined, and now seems to find himself between Maine and the far end of the Celtics’ bench these days. James Young remains sidelined with an illness, and is on track to leave the Celtics’ organization following this season (his third in the NBA) after the team failed to pick up his option for next season.
Even R.J. Hunter – who came into the league with the expectation that he would be able to develop into a superb three-point specialist – has been released for the second time in nearly two months after the Chicago Bulls released 2015’s 28th overall pick.
How hard is the NBA draft? There have been 63 players selected 28th. RJ Hunter is already above the median with 0.3 career win shares.— Ryan Bernardoni (@dangercart) December 29, 2016
That is why the development of Avery Bradley, in particular, strikes a certain chord for Celtics fans.
With six years of professional experience under his belt, yet younger than Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder, Bradley has truly taken the slow and steady route to where he is now – a two-way terror, who leads the team in rebounding, and has progressed to the point that other teams are required to game plan around him.
To say that Bradley – with career field goal splits of 44% and 37% – couldn’t shoot early on in his career isn’t completely accurate. Bradley shot well from the corners – 57% from the three-point corners during his accentuated role in 2011-12 – and thrived playing off of a pass first point guard in Rajon Rondo.
“He could shoot corner three’s pretty early on,” Celtics Director of Player Personnel Austin Ainge said on the Celtics BeatPodcast. "Now, the playmaking, the shooting off movement, the attacking the basket, those are things that as he’s improved and the game has slowed down and he’s become a bigger part of our offense, he’s gotten more reps at it, he’s just gotten leaps and bounds better.”
Although his trademark defense remained the same the following season in 2012-13, Bradley’s offense was inefficient as then-coach Doc Rivers failed to grasp what Stevens has, that Bradley was most effective off of the ball.
Playing alongside legendary veterans Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, as well as mercurial point guard in Rajon Rondo likely didn’t help the quiet Bradley’s development into the player we understand him as today.
“Small incremental improvements year by year,” Ainge said of Bradley’s offseason developments as a player. “He’s always had such a great competiveness, work ethic, athleticism, and his instincts are so good, it’s just taken some time to continue to improve, and also opportunity.
“When he’s playing with Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett, and just kind of standing in the corner, you don’t get a chance to improve on all of these things.”
Bradley has improved incrementally – as Rivers eventually passed the torch to Stevens – from offseason to offseason, yet the jump he has made this season seems to stand alone.
Bradley holds career-highs in all offensive categories (save for free throw percentage) with 17.8 points and 2.4 assists per game, on 48% shooting from the floor and 41% from three. The kicker for Bradley – a statistic that no one likely saw coming – is the 7.2 rebounds per game, leaps and bounds higher than the 6’2 guard has ever reached.
For reference on just how much of an anomaly rebounding has been for Bradley, his 230 total rebounds thus far through 32 games this season are 11 short from his career-high of 241 total rebounds completed in 77 games in 2014-15.
If Bradley keeps cleaning up the glass at that rate that he has been going at, he will end up in rare territory.
Bradley’s individual and team defensive numbers might not be where you’d normally expect them (his defensive rating is worst on the team), yet much of that has to do with the amount of minutes he has played (he’s 12th in the league in total minutes played), and his efforts with rebounding for a team that has gotten destroyed on the boards for much of this season.
When called upon to lend his first-team all-defense, Bradley has been present, as evidenced with the Celtics putting Bradley on Mike Conley during the Dec. 20 overtime showdown against Memphis. Conley made a few difficult looks in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, before going 0-2 in overtime.
The woefully underpaid Bradley will be in line for a hefty raise when his contract expires at the end of next season. We’ll see how his evolution as a player is regarded when the contract negotiations take place.