Rajon Rondo and company were supposedly talented and deep enough to contend for a title this season. Instead, they’ve fought to stay above .500 and can currently be classified as a fringe playoff team.
Last season, the Celtics were allowing a league-best 98.2 points per 100 possessions. They were also holding opponents to a 45.2 effective field-goal percentage, the second-best mark in the league. This counteracted their 25th ranked offense and allowed them to come within one victory of an NBA Finals appearance.
This season, however, Boston has been the same lackluster offensive specimen, without the defensive punch that allowed them to contend in the first place. Currently, the Celtics are relinquishing 104.3 points per 100 possessions (12th in the league) and opponents are now posting an effective field-goal percentage of 49.1 (16th). And that’s a problem.
To call the Celtics a defensive disaster would be a stretch, but they lack that killer instinct that separated them from the pack in years past. They’re not protecting the rim as efficiently and their perimeter defense has been nothing short of porous.
Enter Avery Bradley.
The budding young guard has yet to play this season, which is a shame. Not only is he arguably Boston’s best perimeter defender outside of Rondo, but he brings with him some much needed youth and athleticism as well.
Fortunately for the reeling Celtics, Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com is reporting that he’s less than two weeks away from a return to the hardwood:
Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley said he is targeting a possible return to game action on Jan. 2 against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Bradley, who returned to full practice activities on Monday during an off-day workout in Chicago, said he still plans to travel west with the Celtics as part of a four-game road trip to close out the calendar year. But he noted that trainers are likely to keep him locked to a plan that could have him ready to return to action when Boston returns home.
“It’s up to, not only to me, but the doctors and [team trainer] Ed [Lacerte],” said Bradley. “We’re just going to take it day by day. They’re saying January — around the first or second — so we’re just going to see how I feel.”
With the Celtics struggling to remain in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, this news could not have come at a better time.
Boston held opponents to just 96.5 points per 100 possessions with Bradley on the court last season, compared to 100.1 with him off. His knack for clogging the passing lanes and defending in transition will only help a Celtics team that has allowed 100 or more points in four of their last five contests.
What’s more is Bradley decreases Boston’s dependency on Courtney Lee. Atrocious shooting aside, Lee has not been as defensively oriented as advertised. The Celtics are allowing 105.3 points per 100 possessions with him on the court, a mark that falls to 102.6 six when he’s off it.
Yes, there is still time for Boston to turn this season around, but it needs to re-establish its defensive roots before that becomes a reality.
Bradley ensures that the Celtics will do just that.
Far more than Lee, Jason Terry or any of Boston’s other backcourt options ever could.
Dan Favale is a firm believer in the three-pointer as well as the notion that defense doesn’t always win championships. His musings can be found at Bleacherreport.com in addition to TheHoopDoctors.com. Follow @danfavale on Twitter for his latest posts and all things NBA.