Because of injuries to both players, the duo had appeared together only 15 times between May, 2012 and last week (out of 163 Celtics games), forcing many fans to go deep into the memory bank to remember how effective they were while playing together during the stretch run of the 2011-12 season.
Now, we're finally getting another chance to see them play together -- and so far, the results are promising.
Rondo's entire advanced stat line improves this season when he's paired with Bradley.
Most notably, Boston's defensive rating dips more than eight points when Rondo and Bradley are on the court together (diving from 109.7 to 101.5) compared with Rondo alone, while rebound rates spike and turnover rates plummet.
Rondo is in the positive for plus/minus when on the floor with Bradley (albeit, barely, at plus-1) compared with minus-96 in his 555 minutes of floor time without him.
Maybe more than anything else, Bradley's defensive presence takes pressure of Rondo and allows him to be more of a pest with freedom to freelance a bit on the perimeter. Rondo can take more chances with Bradley, and that plays to his strengths.
Important to note that these numbers came before the Nets game, and some of those numbers took a hit as the Celts were terrible defensively against Brooklyn.
Still, it's clear that at the very least the Rondo/Bradley combination is a monster upgrade over any other guard combo the Cs have used this season.
Per-100 possessions the Celtics are outscored by only 2.4 points when Rondo/AB share the court, compared to their -4.7 rating when either (or both) of them are on the bench. They are also out-rebounding their opponents by a significant margin while also allowing nearly six fewer points per 100 possessions when both are on the floor.
It seems obvious why these two have success playing together. For Rondo, Bradley takes tons of pressure off him on the defensive end, allowing him to take the weaker of the two opposing guards. This saves him energy, thus boosting his (and the Celtics) efficiency on the offensive end.
For Bradley the benefit comes offensively, as Rondo has an uncanny ability to find him in good spots on the floor. After a horrific shooting display in his first three games playing with Rondo (12-44 from the field), Bradley has been red hot in his last seven games playing with #9, shooting 47% from the field and 44% from three, averaging 15.7 points per game.
These numbers are actually pretty similar to AB's numbers down the stretch back in 2011-12, when he shot 52% from the field, 49% from three and averaged 15.1 PPG over the last 19 games of that season (when he became a starter). Is it a coincidence that two of the best stretches of Bradley's career (offensively) have come while playing with Rondo? I doubt it.
Obviously the question becomes: do you bring back Bradley? I've been hesitant to go beyond $5-6 million per season (and still am), but if he closes the season red-hot while playing next to Rondo, that could change. We already know the defensive player he is, but if he can become a more efficient offensive player (something Rondo helps immensely), now we're really talking about an impact guy.
The sample size is still relatively small for these guys, but what we have seen is encouraging. Bradley makes Rondo better defensively, Rondo makes Bradley better offensively, and together they make the Celtics a better team. Hopefully we continue to see signs of this over the last 12 games, making it a much easier decision for Danny Ainge this summer.