Avery Bradley has become a bit of a lightning rod for criticism amidst the Lakers’ lackluster start to the season. But while he’s probably not as bad as his loudest critics would suggest, there are also plenty of numbers that indicate he’s not necessarily good enough to warrant the starting job Frank Vogel continues to give him.
Bradley’s basic box score numbers — 5 points per game and 34.9% shooting from three — are decent enough for a player on a non-guaranteed contract with the lowest usage rate on the team (just 10.6% of Lakers possessions end with Bradley shooting, drawing free throws, turning the ball over or assisting a teammate’s basket). They’re “meh,” but the mostly fine kind of “meh,” on their face.
Some of the more advanced numbers, however, tell a more actively detrimental story. The Lakers are never worse than in Bradley’s minutes (getting outscored by 10.7 points per 100 possessions) and never better than when he sits (+2.3).
That 13-point swing in net rating is far and away the largest of any player on the team, per NBA.com, but head coach Frank Vogel says numbers like that also aren’t the main thing he and his coaching staff look at when deciding to play (and start) Bradley. Vogel, as he always has, says such stats miss some context, and undersell Bradley’s impact in the process
“Effort and intensity is infectious,” Vogel said. “He plays extremely hard. I know the numbers you’re talking about. We take them with a grain of salt. When a guy is bringing that type of effort and intensity, it’s just an intangible thing that energizes the group and sets the tone for our defense. So there’s a lot of positives with what he brings to the table.”
The thing is... Vogel isn’t entirely wrong. Advanced numbers are great, but there are things they don’t capture, and when tweaked just a tad, there are signs that Bradley can make a positive impact on this team in the right role:
i can spin the numbers a bunch of different ways, but i'll say this:— Darius Soriano (@forumbluegold) November 29, 2021
the lakers, w/ bradley playing next to russ/bron/ad but without deandre on the floor, have a +12.1 net rating. there's a usefulness of him w/ those players that shows up in the data. add dj & the stats plummet. https://t.co/t6yV2BJImL
And for what it’s worth, the starting lineup featuring Bradley and Jordan hasn’t even been that bad. Over 28 minutes (a small sample, but still the team’s sixth-most used grouping) it has outscored opponents by 4.9 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. The offense is horrible (98.3 points per 100 possessions), but the defense is stifling (allowing just 93.4 points per 100 possessions). 20 of those 28 minutes came against the actively awful Detroit Pistons and Sacramento Kings, so again, grain of salt, but still.
Where Bradley’s numbers largely got cooked when he was starting in LeBron James’ absence. The team’s third-most used lineup, with the currently mothballed Kent Bazemore in James’ place, got destroyed so badly that it put up a -19.1 net rating over 40 minutes. Every other group featuring Bradley to play 28 minutes or more has been a positive.
So there are signs that Bradley can be useful in the right role, even if there are also plenty of other signals that the team might be better served playing him in reserve groupings, and replacing him in the starting lineup with a shooter. Or benching DeAndre Jordan if they want to keep Bradley in the starting unit, and inserting a shooter in Jordan’s place.
The point is, there are ways they can play Bradley if Vogel really wants to use his basketball security blanket, but just like they have to with many other players, it’s just a matter of finding the right groupings where he can best be set up to make a positive impact, and playing him in units that emphasize his strengths instead of highlighting his weaknesses. If the Lakers can find those combinations, then Vogel’s reasoning for playing him might get backed up by the numbers, instead of serving as justification for ignoring them.