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With the Celtics winding down a lost 2013-14 campaign, much of my attention has begun shifting towards the 2014-15 Celtics. Part of that puzzle is the draft: what picks will the Celtics end up with and who they will target. Part of it is whatever happens with Rajon Rondo as he enters the final year of his contract. And part of it is what happens with Avery Bradley as he hits restricted free agency and is allowed to negotiate with other teams (with the Celtics having the right to match any deal). And that's what we'll be discussing today — where does Bradley fit in to the future of this team, and at what price?

Earlier this season it was reported that Bradley declined a contract extension that would have paid him $6 million per season, instead hoping to make around $8 million per year once he hits the open market.

A number that is absolutely too high.

AB has taken steps forward as an offensive player this season, averaging a career high 14.3 PPG while playing 30.6 minutes per game (also a career high). But despite improving drastically as a shooter, he still remains incredibly inefficient. Why is that?

It's actually pretty simple, Bradley's "go-to" offensive move is the mid-range jumper, which he knocks down a respectable 45% of the time. Usually league leaders hang around 50% from mid-range (think Dirk), so Bradley being at 45% is actually pretty damn impressive (league average is around 41%). The problem is that Bradley struggles mightily from close to the basket (within 16-feet), where he also shoots 45%, and is not all that great from three-point range (36%, just about league average). This means that Bradley is living and dying by the mid-range game, widely considered the least efficient shot in basketball (it's worth the same amount as a shot from close and you're less likely to get fouled, and it's obviously worth a point less than shooting from three). All of this adds up to Bradley's "true shooting percentage" being just 49.3%, ranking him 65th in a group of 70 players who have shot 600+ times this season. That he ranks that low on the list during his supposed breakout season is not a ringing endorsement of his offensive skill. If a player improves from being the worst in the league (Bradley's 46.1% true shooting percentage in 2012-13 was the worst in the NBA) to merely being bad..is that really a huge step forward? I'm not so sure.

Bradley did take a nice step forward with his rebounding, grabbing 7.2% of all available rebounds when he was on the floor compared to 4.6% last season. However, he once again flopped in his limited time as a point guard, putting an end once and for all to the thought that he can handle the point when Rondo is either injured or on the bench. While that's not the end of the world, Bradley the pure shooting guard is not quite as valuable as Bradley the shooting guard who can play point guard when necessary.

And finally we have Bradley's defense. Even the biggest Bradley fan would admit that Bradley is, at best, average offensively (although I think we've started to prove that his inefficiency puts him in the below average class), and that most of his value comes on the other end of the floor. Last season, Bradley made the NBA's All-Defense team for the first time in his career, posting some of the best individual defensive numbers in basketball. According to Synergy Sports, Bradley allowed only 0.73 points per play on the defensive end, and held his opponents to just 32.3% shooting. In isolation those numbers went down to 0.67 ppp allowed and 30.3%. When you consider that he constantly matches up with the opponents best guard, these numbers are flat out ridiculous.

This season, those numbers have fallen (or risen I guess?) to 0.85 ppp allowed and 38.2% FG overall, and in isolation he has crashed all the way to 1.09 ppp allowed and a 52.9% FG. But I don't think that it's fair to pin this all on Bradley, but instead, look at how the Celtics are using him.

Earlier this year, Brad Stevens said that he wanted Bradley to work on his help defense and start moving away from his lockdown defender role. Stevens' defensive system clearly puts less emphasis on 1-on-1 defending and more emphasis on team defense and help than Doc Rivers' system did. And according to Synergy, that shows in the numbers, as Bradley is guarding an opponent in isolation in just 9% of his defensive possessions this season, down from 23% last season.

Which makes me wonder: is Stevens' system the right one to maximize Bradley's value? He's clearly a phenomenal defender in one-on-one situations, and at the age of 23 should be just starting to enter his prime. Yet this season his defensive numbers have plummeted as his role has changed.

And if Bradley is not going to be "unleashed" defensively, there is no way he is worth anything close to $8 million. Not when nearly all of his value is tied up on that end of the floor, and especially not when you consider his injury history (double shoulder surgery and now a nagging ankle injury) and the 2014 draft class which is rich with shooting guards projected to go in the mid-first round (where the Celtics second draft pick would be). Tell me, would you rather Bradley at $8 million, or Nik Stauskas at $2 million? What about P.J. Hairston? Wayne Selden? All three guys would cost less over four seasons than Bradley would for just one, and all three have the potential to be better offensive players than AB is.

This is not to say the Celtics should not negotiate with Bradley. He's a great kid who works hard and is still phenomenally talented defensively, and all of that has value. But if he declines $6 million again, I'm not so sure I'd go any higher. Boston is currently waiting for a host of overpaid role players to expire from their books in Gerald Wallace, Jeff Green, Kris Humphries and Brandon Bass, and just dumped another one (Courtney Lee) for an expiring contract. For a team still in the beginning stages of their rebuild, I'd hate to see Bradley become another overpaid role guy who's value doesn't match his contract.

If Bradley does get better offers elsewhere, the Celtics could either work out a sign-and-trade (maybe a future draft pick or some young talent coming back in return) or simply let him walk and invest that money elsewhere. While that would be disappointing to many, every player should have a price in which their team walks away. For Bradley I think that price is in the $6-7 million range.


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Michael Dyer 2/25/2014 05:21:00 PM Edit
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