I think we can all agree the Celtics won’t be raising banner 18 in the immediate future, and more likely than not the 2014-15 NBA season will result in another lottery pick come June, regardless of how ardently Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley & Co. argue the contrary. It’s been a year since Danny Ainge traded Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets, launching the process of stockpiling draft picks and cap-friendly contracts. Since the Celtics failed to cash in those commodities in exchange for fireworks this summer, this season’s preview will have a Wyc Grousbeck theme, focusing on the hodgepodge of C’s pieces in a series we’ll call Asset Management. Next up: Avery Bradley.
In NBA circles outside Boston — and even some in Celtics Nation — Bradley’s four-year, $32 million contract extension received extensive criticism this summer, which seems weird for a player of his caliber. Let’s think about this.
When compared to Detroit’s overpayment of Jodie Meeks (3 years, $19.5 million), Bradley’s average annual value of $8 million doesn’t seem so bad, but teams were frugal with guards this offseason, and a deal like San Antonio’s with Patty Mills (3 years, $12 million) makes Bradley’s price tag appear a bit high.
Play along for a minute and take a look at these numbers from 2013-14.
Player 1: 18.4 ppg (44.4 FG%, 41.7 3P%, 79.5 FT%), 3.1 rpg, 2.2 apg, 0.9 spg
Player 2: 14.9 ppg (43.8 FG%, 39.5 3P%, 80.4 FT%), 3.8 rpg, 1.4 apg, 1.1 spg
If you were paying attention this past season, you’ll recognize Bradley as Player 2 in this scenario. Player 1? None other than Klay Thompson, the shooting guard Golden State wouldn’t give up to land Kevin Love. The same Thompson whose agent, Bill Duffy, recently dubbed his client, “the top two-way, two-guard in basketball,” in an attempt to land a maximum contract extension from the Warriors that would start at roughly twice Bradley’s average annual value.
Is Bradley the offensive talent Thompson has proven himself to be? Of course not, although his 40 percent shooting on 200 3-pointers wasn’t so bad. Just 12 guards matched that feat in 2013-14: Bradley, Thompson, Curry, Mills, Meeks, Goran Dragic, Jose Calderon, D.J. Augustin, Marco Belinelli, Arron Afflalo, Joe Johnson and Bradley Beal.
And how many of them have an NBA All-Defensive nod on their resume? Only one: Avery Bradley, who at 23 years old also happens to be the second-youngest member of that group behind Beal. The backcourt mates for much of that shooter’s dozen were also fairly impressive. Mills and Belinelli had Tony Parker, Dragic had half a season of Eric Bledsoe, Calderon had Monta Ellis, Johnson had Deron Williams, Beal had John Wall, Thompson and Curry had each other, and Bradley had, well, Jordan Crawford, Phil Pressey and 30 games of Rajon Rondo‘s rehab stint.
So, why the criticism? Bradley’s inability to stay on the court has been the biggest roadblock on his path to success. His 2012 double shoulder surgeries cost the Celtics a shot at a third NBA Finals in five years and set him back 30 games the following season. Ankle sprains and an Achilles strain cost him another 22 games last year. The shoulder issues haven’t popped up since and Bradley has been training all summer in a program designed to limit the injury risk to his lower extremities, but that “injury prone” label won’t go away until he proves otherwise.
Since playing 33 games alongside Rondo and essentially saving the Celtics season in 2012, the apparent backcourt of the future has shared the floor in just 26 games over the past two years. Somehow, Rondo and Bradley have only played a combined 63 games in their four years as teammates. Every season, we’re teased by the possibility of this wonderfully complementary pair — Rondo’s passing wizardry offensively and off-ball gambling defensively combined with Bradley’s 3-point-splashing, backdoor-slashing ways on one end and on-ball lockdown ability on the other. And every year we’re left wondering what might have been. Barring a preseason injury or a blockbuster trade involving Rondo, we’ll at least see them in the same season-opening starting lineup for the first time, and that’s something.
If Bradley keeps displaying that All-Defensive talent and 40 percent shooting from 3 while avoiding serious injury for the next four seasons, he’ll be worth that $8 million annually and then some, regardless of whether Rondo or Marcus Smart mans the other guard position by the end of that contract. The Celtics are banking on it.
Asset Rating: B+
This has been another edition of Asset Management. Check out more Celtics player valuations below.
Asset Management: Jeff Green’s Celtics future
Asset Management: Tyler Zeller’s Celtics future
Asset Management: Kelly Olynyk’s Celtics future
Asset Management: Marcus Smart’s Celtics future