Ray Allen participated in the team shoot around and is expected to be reinserted into the Celtics starting lineup tonight against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Yes, despite the title of this article I do think this is a good thing. Allen has missed the last four games for the Celtics nursing a sore ankle that he aggravated in a 102-96 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks back on March 22nd. Since Allen has been out , combo guard, Avery Bradley has been performing quite well in his stead and has helped the Celtics win 3 of their last 4 games as they now sit atop the Atlantic Division in a tie with the Philadelphia 76ers at 28-22. Versus the Sixers, Bradley actually came off the bench to replace the injured Michael Pietrus. During this small stretch of games Bradley has averaged 41 minutes per game, 14.3 PPG, 3.7 Rebounds per game and has posed problems for opposing ball handlers and defenses alike.
Now, before you start hooting and hollering about the idea of Ray Allen coming off the bench and Avery Bradley being inserted into the starting 5, first let me preface this idea by stating a few things. 1) In no way shape or form to I believe Avery Bradley is a better player than Ray Allen. 2) In no way shape or form to I believe that Ray Allen’s performance this season warrants a demotion to the reserve team. This idea is based solely on a serious lack of production from the Celtics bench that I believe a better rested Ray Allen can help tremendously not to mention the fact that Bradley and Allen’s differing styles helps both the offense and defense of the starting five. Rondo, in particular, seems to thoroughly enjoy having the speed and quickness of Bradley out there beside him and has deferred the ball handling duties to Bradley in the hopes of helping him learn the offense better.
On defense, the Bradley and Rondo combo completely devours any semblance of back court penetration. Their on the ball pressure causes bad decisions by opposing teams and when turnovers are caused Rajon has a teammate that is very quick getting out on the fast break and thus results in easier baskets. If Rondo needs a break from covering the opposing PG, no subs are needed and Bradley and Rondo can switch off easily in a moments notice. Allen doesn’t provide the same on the ball defense that Bradley does and often times despite being a solid defender in his own right requires help defense when the younger, quicker guards get the step on him. In a game vs the Wizards, while facing off against the speedy John Wall, I saw Bradley step around a screen in a full sprint and still beat Wall to his desired driving lane on the wing. The result… Garnett was able to stay down on the defensive post, the Wizards had to reset their offense thus allowing the Celts to reset their defense and 13 seconds were eaten off the shot clock. The downside of Bradley’s defense seems to be controlling his energy levels. He does fall for up fakes on shots and ball fakes on passes, but these are things that are fixed with experience on the floor. Larger guards also seem to try and post up against Bradley on the wing, but again this helps the Celtics defense immensely. This slows the tempo down for opposing offenses and plays into the hands of the Celtics help defensive schemes. The offense now needs a big man at the top of the key to set a screen so the PG can beat Rondo on the dribble and the player posting Bradley isn’t moving. The help defense is set and ready for entry lobs and Bradley now has the chance to play “Ball-You-Man” defense and take a chance on a soft pass.
Offensively, Avery Bradley is nowhere near the player Ray Allen is, obviously. It doesn’t take the team from NCIS running investigative forensics to figure that out. One area that he does help out on offense is his stubborn will to both cut to the lane as well as giving the Celtics a second option on the floor in the back court for their own dribble penetration. He gets to the net easier than Allen does and draws more fouls going to the rim. This gives Rondo clearer passing lanes and also seems to have cleared more space for Pierce to get isolated on the wing. Allen, naturally is one of the more adept players at running defenders off screens, but there are still many times when he is on the floor that the Celtics become too geared into outside jump shots and their offense starts to look a bit vanilla. Why not tire out the starting shooting guards and have Ray come off the bench about 7-8 minutes into the first quarter to face a back-up guard or better yet a SG that has 2 quick fouls and may be very hesitant to pick up a third? This will allow Ray less challenged shooting attempts and clearer chances at driving the lane. Something that Allen seems less and less inclined to do as he ages.
The most obvious comparison to playing Ray Allen with the second team is Jason Terry. Here is a quick comparison of the Allen and Terry’s stats on the season just to show that Allen can be the 6th man and not lose minutes or scoring chances.
Ray Allen and Jason Terry have almost identical stat lines for this season. Terry, of course has been the recipient of the NBA 6th Player Award in the past and performs these duties for the NBA’s defending Champion, Dallas Mavericks. Naturally, of course we should see a comparison of the Mavs starting Shooting Guard, Vince Carter against Avery Bradley, but only with Bradley’s last 3 games as the starting combo guard figured in. Bradley’s minutes per game will have to come down a lot in order for Ray Allen to maintain his minutes played. So here is that quick breakdown.
Bradley’s stats, because he played more minutes and has a much smaller sample size are better than Vince Carter’s. The Celtics also played some pretty bad teams and Avery Bradley scorched the Wizards for 23 points on his best shooting night of his career. However, in my opinion Bradley could easily achieve numbers close to the 9.0 PPG as a starter and would most certainly provide more energy and superior defense to Vince Carter. The defense has to be factored in when thinking about this idea becoming a reality.
What about the Celtics bench? How bad are their numbers this season exactly? We know with Ray on the mend and playing one of the NBA’s worst teams in the Charlotte Bobcats, the Celtics bench was outscored 59-9 and per the norm while the second unit was on the floor the C’s squandered an 18 point lead in the second quarter while being outscored as a team 35-19. Not all the second unit’s fault, but the hope and momentum that allowed them to make a game of it was ignited during the minutes played by the Celtics swoon unit. Now let’s look at the Celtics bench numbers on the season versus their opponents. Stats for the bench have been taken from Hoop Stats
The Celtics offensive woes from the bench are staggering to look at ranking in the bottom 5 in the NBA across the board. Their defense on the other hand ranks in the top 5 in every category with the exception being rebounds. Rebounds have been a team wide struggle for the vertically challenged Celtics all season and Ryan Hollins may be able to change the direction of that a bit more in the Celtics favor. The offensive numbers as can be seen, need some serious help. Ray Allen, alone almost matches their output. The Dallas Mavericks bench with the scoring of Jason Terry in the mix, ranks 3rd in the NBA at 40.3 PPG. That is almost double the scoring of the Celtics bench. The Celtics defense wouldn’t take a large hit with Ray Allen out there against a back-up guard with the helps of Bradley moving over to the PG position again to snuff out the dribble penetration, which in turn leads to easy kick-outs when the defensive help has to swing over for help.
I don’t necessarily think this is a fix-all solution for the Celtics bench, but a much needed push in the right direction. The team is getting older, slower and is heading into a stretch of games against tougher competition. While I do think vying for the division title is of paramount importance when playoff seedings come around, I also believe that achieving this goal at the expense of our veteran shooters legs getting juiced is a risk I am personally not willing to take. With the way the Celtics have been playing of late, a #5 seed is within grasp even without the division title. Giving Bradley experience and exposure down the stretch won’t cause a huge drop off in the effectiveness of the starters and with the legs of Ray Allen more rested in the 4th quarter more of those Game Winning 3′s we’ve grown accustomed to, will be more easily converted.
What do you think Celtics’ fans. Could this be a viable option that works? Would Ray Allen even accept this as a role?