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Who is the real Avery Bradley?

The past two seasons have been an undeniable disaster for Avery Bradley, but he looks to get a fresh start with the Grizzlies. Can he return to his old form?

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Cleveland Cavaliers David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The career of Avery Bradley has been a roller coaster ever since leaving the Boston Celtics in the 2017 off-season. He was traded to the Detroit Pistons, and Bradley, who was a known defense-first playmaker, was actually coming off his best offensive season of his career averaging 16.3 points per game shooting 39.0% from three. However, he was not in Detroit long (40 games) before he was shipped to the Los Angeles Clippers in the Blake Griffin deal. After a seven year career in Boston, Bradley has been on three different teams in under two seasons.

Outside of the presumed hardships this movement had on Bradley’s psyche, his game also suffered with both Detroit and Los Angeles. Neither system fit his offensive game which affected him on the defense end as well. In the 40 games in Detroit and the 55 games in Los Angeles, he had a -0.09 and -0.07 win share per 48 minutes, respectively, which is an estimate of the number of wins contributed by the player per 48 minutes. To put into perceptive at how poor these two numbers are, the league average is approximately .100 and most player production is graded around that number. In addition to his win shares, the Pistons had a -4.6 net rating with Bradley on the court and a 4.6 net rating with him off the court. As for the Clippers, the team had a -2.3 net rating with Bradley on and a 3.2 net rating with him off. These two stats pretty much tell the story of his tenure with Los Angeles and Detroit.

These numbers are not to just rip Avery Bradley apart and paint a picture that he will never succeed in Memphis. Instead, they are more of a reminder of where Bradley is coming from at this point in his career. He can possibly produce at the levels he did in Boston on a consistent level, but it is important he is in the right situation to do that. He has already showed that in his first ten games in a Grizzlies jersey.

Avery Bradley is the type of player who finds himself stuck in the middle of the current NBA discussion when it comes to player statistics. As it was already seen, the advanced analytics do not look favorably towards Bradley. More (mostly negative) stats will be given throughout the article, but his game does not reflect the style of play the analytics algorithms look for. The other side of the argument for Bradley is he, on any given night, can just go out and get buckets. This is where the difficulties lie for anyone trying to evaluate his game. Even if the analytics do not like him, he sometimes passes the eye test to make you just scratch your head in confusion.

So, what is Memphis actually getting with Avery Bradley? This article will look at both sides of his game and try to get a better understanding of what he can bring to the Grizzlies going forward.

Offensive Impact

When first getting to Memphis, Avery Bradley first told the media that Coach J.B. Bickerstaff told Bradley he wanted him to get back to playing like he did in Boston. Bradley said it was a breath of fresh air and the boost of confidence he needed. His new tenure has gotten off to a solid start as Bradley is averaging 17.1 points per game shooting 41.2% from three in the 10 games since being traded. In only his second game with Memphis, he went off for 33 points which helps his stats quite a bit. Bradley has found a stride in this offense, but the biggest question mark is if this play is sustainable moving forward.

Earlier this season in Los Angeles, Doc Rivers did not know how to acclimate Bradley in the offense they were running. He still averaged 29.9 minutes with the Clippers, but the impact he had was mostly negative which reflects in his numbers. According to Cleaning the Glass, Bradley scored only 93.9 points per 100 shot attempts in this season with the Clippers, which ranks in the 12th percentile among players. This percentile, while averaging just under 30 minutes a game, is all the proof you need to know that his situation with the Clippers was not working out.

The schematic problem that Bradley faced with the Clippers was that he was forced into pick and roll action and spot-up shooting where he was not succeeding. Bradley can create shots for himself, but he is not the ball handler and/or cutter needed to succeed in any similar action.

In Memphis, he is having his best offensive season as mentioned. His offensive rating is a solid 107.6. Bickerstaff has given him a long leash of creating for himself as opposed to the play call design that did not work in Los Angeles. Looking at the numbers closer, 45.5% of Bradley’s made field goals have been unassisted since joining the Grizzlies. The analytics community would say that is a huge red flag because a majority of those shots are not the best quality look compared to anything created from a teammate. However, the counter to that is that he is averaging solid numbers across the board no matter how it is accomplished. The clip above describes the struggle perfectly as the Bradley shot was long two early in the shot clock. A analytic nightmare, but two points is two points.

Bradley is just a raw scorer that can go get a bucket when needed. He has new offensive life in a new situation, and, no matter your preference of style of play, it seems that he is taking this opportunity and getting early results.

Defensive Impact

Turning to the defensive side of the ball is where the most concern originates. With the eye test alone, anyone can tell that Bradley is just a few steps behind at times. Defenses now have to be schemed to help off on some of Bradley assignments that was never an issue before the past two seasons. In Boston, he was always option number to guard the best player on the opposing team.

These past two seasons have been the worst defensive ratings of his career. This season with the Clippers, he had a defensive rating of 109.3 ranking as the worst in his nine season career. Outside of defensive rating, the on/off net ratings of the team is another place to look at defensive impact. As was referenced in the beginning of the article, those numbers do not look promising for Bradley as well.

At some time in his career, he possessed the defensive intangibles to defend at the highest level. New systems and age are two things that have definitely bogged him down over the years, but maybe with his offensive game clicking a bit more, he will be able to put focus back on defense.

All in all, the statistics flat out do not like Avery Bradley. Even if you are someone who does not like the analytics side of the game, the numbers are not lying. Bradley currently sits with a -3.29 Real Plus Minus which is an ESPN metric estimating an overall player’s on-court impact on team performance measured in net point differential. This ranks 454th out of 494 NBA players. This is something that you cannot just ignore.

Although these numbers are rough, the argument gets tricky because Bradley is putting up career offensive numbers in these first 10 games with the Grizzlies. It is the offensive freedom he has been looking for over the past two seasons. With any hope, he can continue to pass the eye test without considering the underlying numbers.

It is a steep hill for Avery Bradley to climb getting back to the player he once was. He will have to figure out the way to stay on the court without being a liability on the defensive end. Continue to build confidence in an offensive game and let that carry over to defense. Bradley has the talent, so maybe he just needed an opportunity with the Memphis Grizzlies to find his way back.

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