The Boston Celtics finished the regular season on a high note last year, winning 14 of their final 19 games. It gave the team a burst of momentum that carried them to within one game of their third NBA Finals trip since 2008.
It also gave the Celtics a glimpse into the potential of Avery Bradley.
Or perhaps, it was merely a mirage.
Over the final 15 games of the season, Bradley averaged 15.1 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.2 steals over 32.9 minutes per game. He also shot 52 percent from the field and 54.5 percent from three-point range.
Throughout the year, when Boston needed a big stop, Bradley stepped up. Then all of a sudden, when the team needed a big shot, Bradley stepped up.
Slowly but surely, he was transforming into the kind of player who could produce at a high level on both ends of the floor. A player who could successfully take away points from the opposition and contribute them to his own team instead. Those players were hard to come by.
And to think, this kid had just turned 21.
But like they say, it’s all down hill after then. I guess someone forgot to inform Bradley not to take it literally.
Through 40 games this season, the 22-year-old is averaging 9.2 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.2 steals over 29.2 minutes per game. He’s also shooting just 39.7 percent from the floor and 31.7 percent from downtown.
Furthermore, Bradley has posted an offensive rating of 100.4 and a defensive rating of 99.1. In comparison, he had an offensive rating of 98.5 and a defensive rating of 92.9 last season.
An up-and-coming star in the league doesn’t just burn out that quick. There has to be a reason. There has to be something that can be held accountable.
Many were quick to point to Bradley’s offseason surgery. He underwent procedures to not one, but both shoulders.
It made a whole lot of sense. After putting both shoulders under the knife, lifting up a book would seem daunting enough. Let alone rising up to hit tough jump shots in front of 20,000 screaming fans.
But that’s taking the easy way out.
Bradley’s declining offensive production has to do with a lot more than that.
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Last season, Bradley kept defenders guessing.
Off the dribble, he possessed the ability to blow by defenders and take it hard to the rack. But while Bradley was good at getting to the basket—43.8 percent of his field-goal attempts came from within the restricted area—he was even better at finishing those chances off. Bradley converted at a 63.1 percent rate inside the area.
Without the ball, he was just as effective.
Constantly moving around the court, Bradley found himself with open shot after open shot. And like any good shooter, he made the most of them. Bradley shot 42.5 percent from mid-range and 55.6 percent from corner 3’s.
This season much has changed.
While Bradley is still able to get inside the paint, he’s not been as successful. He’s only converted 46.6 percent of his attempts from inside the restricted area. As a result, Bradley has seemed to shy away from driving into the paint—only 34.2 percent of his field-goal attempts have come from within the area.
This is a drop-off in what was a huge part of Bradley’s game last year.
Thus far, only 36.5 percent of his points have come from inside the paint. In comparison, nearly half of Bradley’s points (47.9 percent) came from inside the paint last season.
Instead, Bradley has turned to the three-point shot more often. Unfortunately, the results haven’t been much different.
From mid-range, Bradley’s shot has remained remotely the same (41 percent). However, he’s only connecting at a 35.3-percent clip from corner 3’s.
An increase in the number of outside shots could be the catalyst.
Last year, only 13.4 percent of Bradley’s field-goal attempts were from downtown. This season, that number has nearly doubled to 25 percent.
The impact of this change in shooting tendencies has clearly shown as of late.
Over the last six games, Bradley is averaging 6.3 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. He’s shot 16-of-59 (27.1 percent) from the field and 2-of-13 (15.4 percent) from three-point range.
Bradley is clearly struggling offensively. At least now we have a better idea of why.
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Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Bradley has declined as a basketball player. That’s far from the truth.
There’s no arguing that he’s one of the league’s elite defenders. Some of Bradley’s opponents might even concede that he’s the best. His defensive IQ is unrivaled.
However, offensively, Bradley’s just not getting it done this year.
He’s straying away from what has worked in the past and forcing up shots he knows better than to attempt. When you take into consideration that he’s now expected to fill some of the offensive void left behind by Rajon Rondo, it’s downright alarming.
Especially with how ineffective he’s been as of late.
The Celtics have lost five of their last six games and are in danger of completely bottoming out before the start of the playoffs.
As they close out March, they need the Bradley from last April to reappear. The player who single-handedly helped spark an inspired finish to the season for Boston.
Does that player even exist? Or is he just the result of over analyzing a simple 15-game stretch?
That’s the one million dollar question.