It's easy to forget now, but the first bullet point in ESPN's 2010 draft profile of Avery Bradley read, "Explosive scorer." Sure, Bradley was regarded as one of the best perimeter defenders in college basketball during his one and only season at Texas, but it was his complementary offensive game that led ESPN to rank him as the top high school senior in the class of 2009 (ahead of John Wall) the year before.
But the biggest knock on Bradley in recent seasons at the NBA level has been his inconsistent offensive game. Neither bouts with injury nor the Boston Celtics forcing him to play point guard have helped his cause. But, hard as it is for some to believe (or at least remember back when when he bumped Ray Allen from Boston's starting lineup at the end of the 2011-12 season), Bradley has the ability to be an offensive weapon.
Lost in the hysteria of the Celtics' thrilling last-second triumph over the Miami Heat on Saturday night was Bradley's fourth-quarter scoring exploits. The 6-foot-3 forced-combo guard hit all four shots he took -- all in the final 6 ½ minutes of play -- while helping Boston hang around long enough for Jeff Green to hit the winning 3-pointer over LeBron James at the buzzer of a 111-110 triumph at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Bradley showcased much of his offensive toolbox during the quarter. When old friend Allen drifted too far, Bradley went catch-and-shoot on a midrange jumper as Boston battled to stick close midway through the frame. With Boston down seven with 4 ½ to go, Bradley darted behind the 3-point arc when Dwyane Wade strayed and hit a triple from the left wing. (Bradley probably deserved an and-1 as Wade knocked him down on the followthrough.)
Next trip down, Chris Bosh failed to blitz a pick-and-roll at the top of the arc and Bradley attacked, blowing past Bosh and producing a floater that sailed just over the top of Bosh's fingertips to make it a two-point game.
Down four in the final minute, Bradley put Allen on his heels on a drive, then buried a step-back midrange jumper with 38.4 seconds to play.
Bradley's buckets blended into the scenery given what unfolded from there, but his offensive contributions -- and his general comfort level while being moved off the ball and playing with Jordan Crawford in recent games -- shouldn't go unnoticed.
The bad news: Bradley is averaging only 0.802 points per play, which ranks him in the 23rd percentile among all NBA players, according to Synergy Sports data. That's the same percentile he finished in last season and, among those with at least 500 offensive possessions for the 2012-13 campaign, Bradley ranked 200th out of 209.
The good news: Bradley was down in the second percentile in the first week of the 2013-14 season, a combination of a spotty jumper and turnover woes making him one of the least efficient offensive players in the league.
During Saturday's game, Bradley scored a season-high 17 points on 8-of-14 shooting with two rebounds and an assist (and no turnovers) over 30 minutes. His advanced stats are even glossier: Bradley generated 1.214 points per play (a number that, if maintained, would rank him among the league's most efficient offensive players).
It's impossible to overstate the positive impact that moving Bradley off the ball has created. Over Boston's first four games (all losses), the team owned an offensive rating of a measly 86.7 when Bradley was on the court (it ballooned to 105.4 when he was on the bench). Bradley was minus-22 for that stretch while turning the ball over 3.8 times per game.
Since inserting Crawford into the starting lineup, the Celtics have won three straight and Boston's offensive rating has climbed to 101.6 when Bradley is on the floor (and dipped to 100.3 when he's off). Bradley is averaging only 1.3 turnovers per game in that span and his field goal percentage is up eight percent.
In order for Boston to consistently have a chance to win games this season, it needs an efficient Bradley on the floor. For whatever reason, running the point guard position tends to paralyze him. But the freedom of the shooting guard role allows his natural talents to take over. It's fair to say that Bradley isn't over-thinking the game when he's off the ball.
During the 2011-12 season, Bradley ranked in the 76th percentile among all players, averaging 0.955 points per play, according to Synergy data. He thrived in transition and off cuts and showed potential to be a consistent 3-point threat when left alone.
When Rajon Rondo returns this season, it's likely that no player will benefit more than Bradley. Rondo's presence will help generate easier looks and force defenses to cheat off Bradley even more while trying to contain Boston's All-Star point guard.
The one downside at the moment to pairing Bradley with Crawford is the dip in Boston's defensive performance. Crawford struggles to keep opponents in front of him, which causes a breakdown in the Celtics' entire help system. On defense, both Bradley's individual numbers and the team's performance as a whole have suffered over the last four games, but it's been offset by Boston's improved offense (yes, even against Orlando in a terrible shooting night).
That offensive jolt can be traced in large part to Bradley's new role. The Celtics don't win Saturday without his efforts serving as the appetizer for Green's main course. And the ability to reestablish Bradley's confidence on the offensive end is vital to his own development.
Everyone knows what the All-Defensive second-teamer is capable of on that end of the floor. The Celtics want to show he can still be a force on the offensive side.