The Celtics Can Still Beat the Hawks Without Avery Bradley
When Boston Celtics shooting guard Avery Bradley went down with an apparent hamstring injury Saturday night, my knee-jerk reaction was to think, "Well, this series is over."
After all, I did list Bradley as a player to watch in a preview of the series the day prior.
But, being the basketball nerd that I am, I started to do some digging into the numbers. And what I found surprised me.
The Celtics haven't been all that bad without Bradley's services.
With and Without Bradley
The Celtics' numbers with and without Bradley, courtesy of NBAWowy.com, tell the story.
|Split||Pace||Points/Poss||Opp Points/Poss||Net Points/Poss|
|With Avery Bradley||97.3||1.102||1.056||0.046|
|Without Avery Bradley||98.6||1.016||1.011||0.005|
I know the change in Net Points per Possession (-0.041) is pretty significant when taken over a greater number of possessions, but it turns out -- despite Bradley's reputation as a really good defender -- the Celtics have actually been better defensively absent the shooting guard.
This isn't to say that Bradley doesn't provide a positive impact on the defensive end; rather it speaks to how deep the Celtics are at the wing position.
A New Rotation
In place of Bradley and his Defensive Rating of 102.9, we're likely to see the combination of Evan Turner (starting) and Marcus Smart (coming off the bench). With Jae Crowder still not 100%, the two will likely see around 30 minutes apiece tonight, which is significant because both have a Defensive Rating superior to that of their fallen teammate's.
Turner and Smart's Defensive Ratings of 100 and 100.2, respectively, are each nearly three points better over the course of 100 possessions. Off the bench, the two have been very solid defenders in their own right and combine for 2.5 steals per game on the year.
Defensively, Boston should be more than okay. In 2016, they're 3-3 without Bradley; however, they have surrendered just 98.2 points per game in those six games. That's 4.3 below their season average. When you take into account the slight increase (1.3 more possessions per game) in Pace, that's even more striking.
As the numbers suggest, the offensive end of the floor will be where the Celtics miss Bradley's presence the most -- particularly, his ability to hit from deep.
|Shooting||3-Pt Makes/Game||3-Pt Attempts/Game||3-Pt%|
|Without Avery Bradley||6.8||26.8||25.5|
The Celtics lose a big part of their perimeter game with Bradley on the shelf. They still attempt more than 26 threes per game, but they make just over a quarter of those. The same reason they're better defensively is the same reason they're worse off defensively: the replacements.
Bradley shot a career-high 5.4 three-point attempts in the regular season, converting at a clip of 36.1%. Smart and Turner averaged a combined 1.2 makes on 5 attempts for a conversation rate of 24%.
Down a perimeter threat like Bradley, Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder could have a tough time picking up the slack from the perimeter against a Hawks defense ranked sixth in the league in opponent three point percentage. They are, however, right around league average (.285) in Three-Point Attempt Rate against (.284).
If Boston can't hit from deep, they could find themselves in a 2-0 hole with the odds stacked against them.
As it stands right now, our algorithms see the Hawks winning the series 66% of the time.
On the other hand, if Game 1 is any indication, the Celtics have shown that, with their solid defense, they can hang with the Hawks even when their shots aren't falling.
Maybe that's why, despite a one-game deficit and a key injury, we still give the Celtics a 33.8% chance of advancing past the first round.
Let's see how Game 2 shakes out tonight.