Bradley has returned: 5 ways he has improved the Celtics

For the last month or so, my posts for CelticsLife have focused on the same issues: Stop the trademania and wait until Bradley returns & Ainge is not a crazy GM. After all, a starting lineup of Rondo-Bradley-Pierce-Bass-KG played 219 minutes last year, posting a ridiculous OffRtg of 1.13 for a more ridiculous DefRtg of 0.94, had an overall +/- of 82, and had won %78.5 of its match-ups (with great sample size, by the way) Since we hadn't seen that starting lineup yet, I positioned myself on the "patience" camp for a long time. Now that I have more data and results to talk about, I can present a detailed account on Bradley indeed being an invaluable member of this team, if not a savior. (Note: I would like to apologize beforehand because some might feel this is repetitive, but after all the talk on whether Bradley would save the team or not, I wanted to have a referential post to back up the sentimentality with data and input.)

1. Defense: The Celtics' defense had been, how do I put this delicately, terrible until Bradley's return. How terrible? Here are some basic stats from to compare.

- In the Big 3.5 era, the Celtics have always ranked in top 2 in Opponent Points/Game and Defensive Rating (with the exception of 2009-10 season, when they were 5th). Top 2. This year, they rank 12th in OppPts/Game (96.7) and 10th in Defensive Rating (104.1).

In the 4 games with Bradley, the Celtics have allowed only 86.2 points per game and the DefRtg is 100.6.

- In 14 of the 30 games without Bradley the Celtics have allowed their opponent to score 100+ points.

That has not happened yet with Bradley, even against a Knicks team that ranks 6th in the league with 102.4 points/game and 2nd in OffRtg.

The grain of salt with these statistics is that neither the Grizzlies nor the Pacers were high-scoring teams, however the success against the Hawks and the Knicks clearly shows that the Celtics are improving in that department.

2. Full court pressure: The more time you can steal from the opponent's shot clock, the more time they need to play their sets and you have to set your defense, the less successful your opponent is going to be at scoring. This is not rocket science, but in case you need data, here it is:

Of course the inflation of the numbers on the 0-10 row is also about fastbreaks, yet as you might recall, the Celtics had given away easy points due to early cuts and defense not being set quite often this season. Bradley's on-ball pressure causes the other teams to lose valuable time and helps the Celtics get set better on defense. The effects on opponent scoring can clearly be seen above.

3. More room for Rondo: Rondo said it himself a few days before Bradley returned to basketball. When Bradley is the one focusing on the ball handler, Rondo gets to do more of what he does best: focus on passing lanes and get tips/steals. Once his responsibility in perimeter defense decreases, he can turn his focus to other areas like rebounding and offense. We haven't played enough games to compare pre-Bradley and post-Bradley Rondo statistics, but I'm quite positive that we'll see a bump in a month or so.

4. Chemistry: Chemistry is a general term and I believe is used a lot which takes away from its meaning, but it is an important factor that comprises elements such as trust between players, familiarity with sets, embracement of roles etc. One of the areas the Celtics have struggled so far this season was that. We've read about trust issues, we've seen players look clueless on defensive rotations, we've seen a constant change of lineups.

Bradley's return clarified many such issues. Bradley's shots don't drop? It doesn't matter, they'll still give the ball to him, and he'll still shoot it when he can. Defensive rotations instantly get better. Terry/Lee finally stop the constant switch-up between the starting lineup and the bench. These are helpful developments to a certain extent.

5. Energy: One frequent complaint about the Celtics team this season has been that they don't play hard. Of course that criticism doesn't apply to KG et al., yet when you looked at the effort as a team, it didn't feel complete. Enter Bradley, someone whose energy inspires everyone. According to Jessica Camerato's latest piece, his former coach refers to him as "the alpha male," and highly praises his work ethic and dedication. It's a great read.

This scene from last night's game against the Knicks shows how resilient this kid is. He collides with JR Smith head-on, and he still makes sure he has control of the ball before he falls to the ground. That is inspiring play. Oh, by the way, this guy played a zillion games with shoulders that were easily comparable to loose Lego pieces last year, in case you'd forgotten. That kind of will is key in basketball, especially against strong opponents.
Overall, I don't mean to say that it is just Bradley that turned the Celtics' season around all alone. Paul Pierce has been putting up great performances. KG is being KG, I don't know any SFW words that describe his inspired play.

Yet there was a reason both the Celtics' management and players awaited Bradley's return, and it wasn't just psychological. Bradley is the future of the Celtics, a player whose value will only go up in time, and there is no way that he'll be used as a cheap trade asset for a player w/issues.