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Should We Buy or Sell the Improvement of Avery Bradley?

Debby Wong/USA TODAY Sports

When the Boston Celtics re-signed Avery Bradley to a four-year, $32 million deal prior to the 2014-15 season, critics immediately voiced their displeasure. Would he ever be good enough offensively? Does he have a position? Will he actually stay healthy?

At the time, those were all fair criticisms. After all, at that juncture, Bradley flashed an inconsistent offensive game, was well-known as a tweener and spent a lot of time on the shelf with injuries.

Fast forward to the 2015-16 campaign, and Bradley is proving all of his detractors wrong. At least for the moment.

Yes, it’s only December, but the 25-year-old has been nothing short of terrific.

Bradley is posting career highs in points per game (16.4), three-point percentage (42.9 percent), true shooting percentage (57.7 percent), effective field goal percentage (56.1 percent), win shares per 48 minutes (.144), PER (17.0), offensive rating (108) and offensive box plus-minus (2.4).

All of those numbers shatter his career averages, with the 2011-12 campaign being the only season Bradley came close to putting up those numbers.

So, thus far, the results have been good, but is Bradley’s level of play sustainable?

Debatable.

For starters, there’s absolutely no question that Bradley is shooting the three-ball better than he ever has, and he’s doing it on high volume (5.8 attempts per game). Perhaps most importantly, Bradley is demonstrating the ability to knock down triples from the wings, something he hadn’t been able to consistently do in years past.

Bradley is shooting a blistering 59.2 percent from downtown at the wing spots this year. Check out his short chart, courtesy of vorped.com:

BRADLEYSHOTCHART

Bradley used to be a guy who was generally limited to corner treys (which he oddly hasn’t been hitting this season), so it’s good to see him diversifying his range.

The University of Texas product has also cut down on his amount of mid-range jumpers. Only 3.1 percent of Bradley’s field goal tries¬†have come from 10-to-16 feet out, well below his lifetime average of 5.5 percent. Also, the amount of long twos (16+ feet away) he’s taking has dropped. This season, 32 percent of his shots have come from that area as opposed to 37.5 percent for his career.

It’s encouraging that Bradley is taking a more efficient approach, electing to take more three-pointers instead of mid-range shots.

That’s all well and good. However, there’d some cause for concern.

First of all, Bradley is shooting 57.1 percent on shots 10-to-16 feet from the basket. While he isn’t taking a large quantity of shots from that range, that percentage will still likely regress to the mean. Bradley only shoots 36.4 percent from there lifetime.

The same goes for Bradley’s effectiveness on field goal attempts from 3-to-10 feet away. He’s converting on 50 percent of those opportunities thus far when he’s only shot 30.3 percent from that range for his career.

You have to assume that the guard’s percentages in those two departments will dip as the season progresses, which will result in his overall field goal percentage taking a hit.

Also, Bradley’s marksmanship from the wings doesn’t seem all that sustainable. While there’s no doubt he’s improved from those spots, 59.2 percent seems a bit extravagant.

That brings us to the key to all of this: free throw shooting.

If Bradley’s free throw rate were better than previous years, I’d be more inclined to fully buy into the youngster’s advancement, but it isn’t.

Bradley is still attempting just 1.7 free throws per game, slightly above his career average of 1.3. So, if his jump-shooting ability comes down to earth, he won’t have foul shots to fall back on. That’s a pretty significant potential problem.

Due to Bradley’s questionable ball-handling ability and his mediocrity in finishing in traffic, he’s not the type of player who’s going to be getting much dribble penetration. He relies on off-the-ball screens to open him up for good looks from mid-range and from distance. He also is adept at hitting three-pointers in transition. However, in terms of creating his own shot by the use of his handles, Bradley is close to helpless.

Clearly, Bradley is depending heavily on his jump shots to fall to be effective. That’s never a good thing.

Take Ray Allen, for example. Allen is arguably the greatest shooter in the history of the game, but even he was getting to the charity stripe four or five times a game during his prime.

Bradley isn’t even getting there twice.

If Bradley’s jumpers are finding the bottom of the net like they have been for the first month and change, hey, that’s great. Perhaps Bradley can become one of the more lethal long-range shooters in the league. However, it’s hard to be convinced of him doing so thus far.

We need to see a larger sample size to determine if he’s truly for real.

Really, all Bradley needs to do is get to the line three or four times a contest. That isn’t too much to ask. If he does that, any potential poor shooting nights can be somewhat mitigated. The problem is, there’s absolutely no evidence to suggest that he’s suddenly going to start drawing fouls.

Right now, based on his numbers, Bradley is making a case for Most Improved Player. I just need to see him continue producing at this rate before I can wholly buy into his thorough improvement as an offensive weapon.

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