Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley shared the floor for 31 minutes during Wednesday's win over the Miami Heat. That constitutes nearly 20 percent of their total floor time together this season (159 minutes through nine games) and 7.6 percent of time they've been paired since the start of the 2012-13 season (409 minutes in 20 games).
As the Celtics play out the string in this transition season, few areas are as of much interest as how Rondo and Bradley perform together and whether they can truly be Boston's backcourt of the future.
It's hard to believe, but our biggest sample size to judge off is the 451 regular-season minutes the duo logged together at the end of the 2011-12 regular season after Bradley supplanted Ray Allen in Boston's starting lineup. The pair proved to be a dominating defensive combination, but can they rekindle that magic without having the likes of Kevin Garnett behind them?
Talking through some thoughts and questions while pondering the Rondo/Bradley combo:
Will Bradley and Rondo even be around in future seasons?
Bradley is set to become a restricted free agent this summer, while Rondo will enter the final year of his contract next season. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said Thursday that he envisions Bradley in Boston's future, suggesting the team will match any reasonable offer to keep him around, while team brass has maintained that Rondo is a player the team plans to build with.
One person who would enjoy seeing a long-term future of the combo is Bradley himself.
"I would love it," Bradley said. "I would love to play for Boston, I would love to play with Rondo, so I wouldn't mind it at all. I'm pretty sure any guard in the NBA would love to play with Rondo."
Bradley makes Rondo better
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.
Said Bradley: "I think we can be very good because we both want to play defense, we both are going to go out there and play hard for out teammates, and we just work very well off each other; I love playing with him."
Can Rondo/Bradley pick up Boston's anemic offense?
It's sort of surprising to see that Bradley's shooting percentages are actually worse this season with Rondo on the court. His field goal percentage dips 12 percent overall and nearly 13 percent from behind the 3-point arc. While most of the numbers surrounding the two are encouraging, Bradley's shooting woes are a bit of a red flag. The optimist chalks it up to a small sample this season with both players working their way back from injuries.
With Bradley's offensive game blossoming this season, it would seem having Rondo alongside to set him up in prime locations would only allow him to further flourish.
The Celtics hope that Wednesday's game is a sign of what can be with the two. Bradley scored a team-high 23 points while hitting a career-best six 3-pointers (albeit, only one assisted by Rondo), while Rondo flirted with a triple-double (9 points, 15 assists, 10 rebounds) and took over the game in the final two minutes while propelling Boston to a 101-96 triumph.
Maybe the most eye-popping figure from the Rondo/Bradley on-court pairing Wednesday was that the Celtics boasted an offensive rating of 123.6 during their tie together, which is 24.7 points higher than the team's anemic season average. It's prudent to remember that defense logged itself a DNP for much of Wednesday's game (even the Rondo/Bradley pairing had a defensive rating of 107, or three points above Boston's season average).
Even Celtics head coach Brad Stevens is intrigued about how the combination will fare together over a longer sample.
"Well I think that's the key question: How they played off one another tonight, because we don't have a whole lot of sample size to work with," Stevens said. "But I thought they did a pretty good job [Wednesday]. Avery can handle the ball in certain situations and we can play Rondo off and then let him play off reversal to pick-and-roll, which is actually advantageous. And then also Rondo can find him for open shots.
"Offensively they seem to be a good match. ... Time will tell, right? But it seems to be a nice fit offensively and then, defensively, they were both very active [versus the Heat] and we need them to both be. The problem with Avery is he can chase a 2 and shut him down or he can pressure the 1 and make it difficult to get into your offense. Sometimes you want to put him on multiple guys, but it's nice to have other guys out there like [Jerryd] Bayless and Rondo who can really defend, as well, when everybody's engaged and locked in."
The Celtics have 13 games remaining on the schedule, but that includes three back-to-backs. If Rondo sits out the second nights, that means the Bradley/Rondo combo will likely top out around 300 more minutes of floor time. That could still push them to challenge their longest sample size of the past three seasons and provide a solid foundation to build off, particularly with a summer where -- Stevens and Celtics fans knocking on wood -- both would be healthy and able to advance their individual games.
Over these final games, we'd like to see Rondo and Bradley try to ratchet up their defense. If Rondo and Bradley can show an ability to keep guards in front of them, Boston's defense will only further thrive whenever the team adds a rim protector.
There's a lot to like about the Rondo/Bradley pairing in the small glimpses we've seen. We just need to see it more.