My working theory on Danny Ainge right now is that he over values 'his guys,' and has what behaviorial economists sometimes call this 'pride of ownership' or ownership bias. A tendency where we over value something either because it is 'ours' or because we feel we had a part in developing it.
That explains on the one hand why Ainge is a good trader. Even though he is always looking for a deal, he rarely takes something unless he gets a quality return. It also explains why he tends to give what are arguably above market deals for guys like Jeff Green and Avery Bradley.
In short I am not a big fan of the deal the Celtics struck with Bradley, though I don't think by any measure it's a team killer or poison contract. It is just placing a bit too much value on Bradley as he stands now.
As I see it the plus/minus leadger on Bradley looks something like this, pluses first:
- Defense: Bradley gives tenacious on ball defense. Though he is not elite in steals. He is rated as the 9th most impactful guard on the defensive end in Jerry Englemann's RAPM.
- Outisde shooting: Bradley shot 39.5% from three last year, 36.6% career.
- Age: Bradley is only 23, about the same age as Kelly Olynyk, Adreian Payne or Doug McDermott.
- Ball handling: AB isn't a point guard, as I noted last year coming into the season. He isn't really even a combo guard.
- Shot selection: Bradley's shot selection is something of an analytic nightmare. Last year he took way too many shots with his heal on the three point line instead of his toe just behind it.
- Reversion of shooting: Bradley shot 39.5% last year, from 3 but only 31.7%the year before. This is the one that worries me least. There's a general, though not immutable, upward trend to shooting from distance for NBA players. Some of that is survivorship bias, but shooting is a learnable and trainable skill with improved muscle memory. In any case, something just above his career 36.6% would be a productive number.
- Injuries: Bradley has missed a significant portion of three out of his four seasons with different injuries. I think this one is a bit overplayed, but I don't dismiss it out of hand. The ankle injuries being the primary concern here since there have been some recurrance of the same injury.
Looking at overall numbers, there is no easy way measure the 8 million a year based on Bradley's current production. For example Daniel Myers' ASPM estimates Bradley's production last year would have been worth $3 million in terms of value over replacement. Though these estimates can vary, for example, RAPM, which rates Bradley much higher based on his defense would give him an estimate somewhere closer to his actual $8 million contract. Given that RAPM is generally more favorable to Bradley than any other metric, it looks like the $8 million figure is near the top of the acceptable pay scale for Bradley's current production (though with the salary cap rising this will adjust upwards).
Of course, one should pay for future production, not past (special attention to Mitch Kupchack). The easiest way for Bradley to increase his value added would be to play closer to 82 games. Beyond that, looking at the negatives list, the easiest to address should be shot selection.
Bradley is an inefficient scorer right now not because he is a bad shooter, but because he shoots from bad places. Boxscore Geeks shows him to be below average for a shooting guard in terms of eFG% and TS% last year and for his career. But his shooting zone chart looks much better than that would suggest.
He actually excelled on Above the Break threes and held his own inside and from the corners.
But when one looks at where those shots came from, a sight burned into my corneas after 82 games last year, the chart is less pretty.
Below is Bradley's shot zone percentages both in terms of selection and field goal percentage, via Basketball Reference:
|2-Pt Field Goals||3-Pt Field Goals|
|% of FGA by Distance||FG% by Distance||Dunks||Corner||Heaves|
|Season||Age||Tm||Lg||Pos||G||MP||FG%||Dist.||2P||0-3||3-10||10-16||16 <3||3P||2P||0-3||3-10||10-16||16 <3||3P||%Ast'd||%FGA||Md.||%Ast'd||%3PA||3P%||Att.||Md.|
As one can see, Bradley's long two spiked last year with > 16 foot twos hitting 42.5% of his shots. Even being above average at this shot is not a recipe for efficient offense. At the end of the season Bradley took, and made more above the break threes than he had at the beginning. I felt like he had lacked confidence at the start in taking the above the break shot. But, if Bradley could roughly flip his long two selection and three selection, not necessarily an easy task, he could improve his true shooting percentages even if he reverts to his career efficiency numbers of 36.6% on threes.
Another area of concern is the lack of shots around the rim. Bradley's percent of shots taken there has fallen the last three years. In the half court Bradley's lack of handles and court vision limits his attempts largely to shots off of cuts, so pairing him (maybe) with Rondo for a full season along with Marcus Smart should increase Bradley's opportunities somewhat. But, I have my doubts that he will be able to repeat the rate he acheived his second season before the scouting book on him was complete.
The easiest way to sum up is that Bradley's value has to be as a 3 and D guy with opportunitistic cuts to the basket. Shots with his heal on the line don't count.