Entering the new year things are about as bad as they could be for the Boston Celtics. After putting together one of their finest performances of the season in a 93-76 win over the Brooklyn Nets on Christmas Day the Celtics once again regressed, going 0-3 on their west coast road trip and getting blown out in all three games. The defense that looked to be coming together in the Brooklyn game got steadily worse during Boston's tour of California, culminating in allowing 118 points to the Sacremento Kings. The losses were discouraging enough, but it got worse when Rajon Rondo injured his hip in Boston's blowout loss to the L.A. Clippers, an injury that may keep him out for Wednesday's game against the Memphis Grizzlies. However there is at least some news on the way as Celtic shooting gaurd Avery Bradley is set to return to the floor for Boston's game with Memphis.
As Doc Rivers said Avery Bradley is not going to fix the Celtics on his own. Their problems, particularly on the defensive end, go way beyond anything one player can fix. However getting their defensive stopper and best perimeter defender back is a huge boost for Boston.
To start with there is the obvious improvements to the defense that will come as a result. Bradley really is an exceptional defensive player. His ability to move his feet and stay in front of his man is almost unparalleled. He is the kind of player who can take an entire offense out of rhythm all by himself. When he extends full court pressure he throws everything of and the pairing of he and Rajon Rondo gives Boston back court to fear from a defensive standpoint. There are always complicated ways that any shift to the rotation effects a team, but the obvious one is that Bradley is just a flat out better defensive player than anyone on the Celtics roster, so their defense will be better with him out there.
However Bradley's impact goes far beyond defense. Assuming he is inserted back into the starting lineup this will allow Celtic coach Doc Rivers to finally establish some stability in his rotations. Initially people were not that worried by Bradley being out at the start of the year because most assumed Courtney Lee wouldn't have any trouble filling his place in the starting lineup. Lee has had some big games coming off the bench for Boston this year, but every time the Celtics have tried to put him back in the starting lineup it has backfired. Rivers has instead been forced to turn to Jason Terry who, despite his numerous qualities, is not a good defender by any stretch of the imagination. Allowing Terry to move back into his preferred role of instant offense off the bench and thus set an early tone on the defensive end with Bradley really alters the culture of the team.
Also one must not forget that Bradley isn't just a defensive player. He actually hit better than 40 percent of his three point attempts last year after moving into the starting lineup. Both Terry and Lee have struggled from three point range this year, so Bradley should provide an upgrade there. However the half court is not where his impact will really be felt. The Celtics have made a concerted effort to get out in transition more this year. However while their bench is loaded with athletes who run the floor well (Jeff Green, Courtney Lee) their starting lineup this year really isn't well suited to fast break basketball. Rondo is the best transition point guard in the game, but Terry doesn't run the floor well and neither does Paul Pierce or Jason Collins. Kevin Garnett can still beat his man down the floor on a fairly regular basis, but asking him to do that every night in his 18th season is simply not realistic. So many times this year the Celtics have tried to get a transition hoop but messed up the possession and ended up actually giving up an easy basket on the other end. Getting Bradley back should go a long way toward fixing this. Celtics fans should remember what happened last year when Rondo finally got a running mate. That was when the Celtics really took off. Having another young athlete who can run with Rondo in the starting lineup will make a world of difference.
In the end Bradley cannot fix the Celtics himself and casting him as a savior is totally misguided. The Celtics problems go way beyond anything that can be solved by one player. However the Celtics have spent this entire season searching for an identity and getting Bradley back actually goes a long way toward establishing that. Last year the Celtics were a team that set a defensive tone the second the jump ball went up, and a lot of that came from Bradley. His defensive intensity and hustle play are something that the Celtics have been sorely missing this year. He can't do it himself, but the Celtics desperately need to reestablish their tough defensive culture, and thus getting their best perimeter defender back is a huge step in the right direction.
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