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Irish Coffee: What Avery Bradley does for the Celtics

12.19.12 at 1:22 pm ET

Upon Avery Bradley‘s return to practice on Monday, Celtics coach Doc Rivers declared, “He ain’t the savior.

Well, he was last season. The Celtics finished 20-9 in Bradley’s 29 starts last year, including a 14-5 record once he took Ray Allen‘s starting job on March 25, and they were essentially a .500 team (19-18) when he wasn’t in the starting lineup. Funny how the C’s have started 12-12 without him this season.

But Bradley does more than impact their record. When he took the floor with Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett, the Celtics outscored their opponents 113-94 per 100 possessions. That’s seven points better on offense and defense than the Rondo-Allen-Pierce-Bass-Garnett lineup (106-101 per 100 possessions).

That’s also far better than Rondo, Pierce, Bass and Garnett with Jason Terry (108-99) or Courtney Lee (106-115) this season. The Celtics shot better (50.6 eFG%), forced opponents to shoot worse (39.5 eFG%), got to the line more often (+28 FTA) and rebounded better (47.0 REB%) with Bradley than with Allen, Terry or Lee.

On top of all that, Bradley reestablished the “pack of hyenas” mentality that defined the C’s during their 2008-10 glory seasons. The Celtics owned the first and third quarters once he replaced Allen in the starting lineup, winning 28 of a possible 38 frames and setting the tone by outscoring everyone from the Bobcats to the Heat by double digits in the opening quarter.

For some perspective, the C’s have won 78 percent of their games (223-63) when leading after the first quarter in the KG era. Conversely, they’re once again a .500 team (99-102) when trailing after 12 minutes.

Perhaps most importantly, Bradley makes his impact without Celtics coaches having to create schemes specifically for him. Offensively, he knocked down corner 3-pointers at a tremendous rate (56 percent) and cut to the basket for a layup once every 7.8 minutes. Defensively, for example, opposing shooting guards like Dwyane Wade and Evan Turner shot 33 percent against Bradley and better than 50 percent when he sat on the bench.

Additionally, Bradley’s ability to shut down any opponent’s best backcourt scorer allows Rondo to gamble more defensively, which led to a 20 percent increase in steals after the NBA All-Star break last season. Likewise, Garnett and Bass don’t have to help or hedge as much, which leaves them to better defend the paint, where the Celtics are allowing a ridiculous 42.8 points per game this season.

Bradley’s return will also force Terry to the bench, where he excelled in Dallas, and push the struggling Lee further down the depth chart. In other words, Rivers can finally begin to define roles for the rest of his roster. If the Rondo-Bradley-Pierce-Bass-Garnett lineup picks up anywhere near where it left off last season, the Celtics coach simply has to squeeze more out of Terry, Lee, Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger and Chris Wilcox than he could out of Keyon Dooling, Marquis Daniels, Mickael Pietrus, Greg Stiemsma and Ryan Hollins last season.

In other words, while Bradley may not be the savior, the Celtics could be born again upon his return, and wouldn’t it be appropriate if that happens when the Celtics visit the Nets for Rondo-Humphries II on Christmas Day?

(Have a question, concern or conception for the next Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach on Twitter.)

Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Courtney Lee, Jason Terry
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