If time flies when you’re having fun, it must be moving at warp speed for Avery Bradley.
The Boston Celtics reached the quarter mark of their season Monday night when a 111-93 win over the New Orleans Pelicans moved them to 12-9, good for eighth place in a surprisingly competitive Eastern Conference. Among the major storylines for this young Celtics squad: the strong play of Bradley, who through 21 games has been impressive enough to earn consideration as a potential All-Star.
Bradley always has been an excellent defender, and this season has been no different, as Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade can attest. But the 25-year-old’s biggest strides have come on offense. Bradley has developed into a veritable sharpshooter since returning from a leg injury in mid-November. His 47.1 percent shooting percentage is sixth-best among all NBA guards, and only Khris Middleton (47.3 percent) and Stephen Curry (47.2 percent) can top Bradley’s 44.2 percent 3-point conversion rate among all qualified guards.
Bradley isn’t even his team’s leading scorer — his 16.4 points per game rank well below Isaiah Thomas’ 21.0 clip — but if you consider his vital contribution to one of the NBA’s elite defenses, the sixth-year guard is a very solid two-way player who could find himself in the discussion for a trip to Toronto in February.
Let’s check out a few other Celtics takeaways at the quarter mark.
Boston’s defense is legit, but it’s even better with Marcus Smart.
The Celtics have developed into one of the league’s best defenses over the last few weeks, a notable feat considering they’re missing one of their best defensive players.
Smart has been out since Nov. 20 with a left knee injury and might not return until late December or January. Boston boasts the NBA’s third-best defensive efficiency rating, behind only the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat, and is surrendering 98.0 points per game, tied for seventh-best in the NBA.
Despite those impressive numbers, the Celtics have struggled at times without Smart. Head coach Brad Stevens has been forced to fiddle with his rotations to account for matchup problems the second-year guard could have solved, which Jae Crowder recently said has affected Boston’s rhythm on occasion. Boston needs Smart back on the floor as soon as possible.
Isaiah Thomas is the engine that makes this offense go.
Believe it or not, the Celtics actually own one of the league’s best offenses on paper, and they have Thomas to thank.
Boston is scoring 102.8 points per game as of Monday, the second-highest clip in the Eastern Conference behind the Indiana Pacers and the seventh-highest in the NBA.
Bradley’s improved shooting has helped the cause, but Thomas is this team’s best all-around scorer. His ability to create offense with his shot and off the dribble is unmatched on team that lacks a true star, and he’ll need to stay on the court if the Celtics want to have success in the spring.
The Celtics need more consistency out of their bigs.
Stevens has plenty of options in the frontcourt, but the Celtics’ big men aren’t making it easy on him.
Outside of Jared Sullinger, who’s been a pleasant surprise this season, Boston’s frontcourt has been all over the place. Kelly Olynyk racked up 21 points Monday against the Pelicans but went a combined 2 for 9 over two games earlier in the road trip. David Lee appeared to find his offensive rhythm before putting up back-to-back clunkers in Miami and Sacramento. Amir Johnson has been valuable on defense but struggled at times on offense, and Tyler Zeller has been a virtual non-factor.
The Celtics have been most effective with smaller lineups so far this season, but they’ll need at least serviceable production out of their frontcourt to be a serious playoff team.
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images