Welcome to our annual Lakers season in review series, where we’ll be taking a look back at every player on the team’s roster this season, evaluating their play, and deciding if they should be a part of the organization’s future. Today, we take a closer look at Avery Bradley.
How did he play?
Avery Bradley had a weird year.
Despite entering the preseason as a member of the Golden State Warriors, Bradley was released in favor of G League lifer Gary Payton II — to the public dismay of the team’s clubhouse leaders — and then quickly scooped up off of waivers for a reunion with Frank Vogel, his former agent Rob Pelinka, and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Steph Curry on Avery Bradley: “Bulldog. Everyone asks who is the toughest defenders you’ve had, he’s the first guy that comes to mind.”— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) October 4, 2021
On the 15th spot: “I think that’s why he’s here.” pic.twitter.com/Gozc2x5DJe
A member of the 2019-20 title team, Bradley played in 49 games, starting 44, before commendably bowing out of an opportunity to play in the bubble due to his desire to protect his six-year-old son with a history of respiratory illness from the raging global pandemic of which we knew very little about at the time.
Bradley began his second Laker stint on the bench, but quickly ascended to a starting role after just a handful of lackluster defensive performances by the poor-fitting and hamstrung group that the team debuted with.
Bradley’s early-season defensive effort shone in contrast to the generally dispirited night-to-night efforts on that end of the floor summoned by the Lakers’ veteran-laden cast. In that way, I thought that he served an early-season utility as a tone-setter for the Lakers’ perimeter players with lesser defensive reputations. While my hopes for improvement by osmosis did manifest to an extent, Frank Vogel continued to deploy Bradley as a regular fixture in starting and closing lineups long after the expiration of that particular benefit.
Despite playing the seventh-most minutes of any Laker this season (1384), Bradley ran up the team’s fifth-worst on/off point-differential of anyone on the roster with at least 100 minutes played (-3.6). Only D.J. Augustin, Kent Bazemore, DeAndre Jordan, and Rajon Rondo had worse point differentials, three of whom finished the season entirely out of the rotation. And for the latter two, actually off the team.
On Basketball-Reference, Avery Bradley’s first listed nickname is “Spiderman,” likely for his wide and low stance and aggressive pressuring on defense. However, he might as well have been “Matador” or “Turnstile,” as his addiction to over-pressuring ball-handlers combined with the erosion of his peak athleticism created wide-open driving lanes for the crafty scoring guards he was typically matched up against.
Bradley’s ground-bound hyperactive on-ball defense worked best in 2019-20, when the Lakers’ twin tower lineups could capably thwart any attack Bradley steered towards the rim. Without a high-quality rim protector at the team’s disposal for the majority of the season, Avery Bradley’s defensive game functioned more like a police escort than a PIT maneuver.
Opponents shot 7.5 percentage points better from the field when guarded by Bradley, the fourth-worst mark in the entire NBA (among players who appeared in more than 50 games). Granted, there is some margin for error in opponent shooting variance. For example, opponents shot better than their own average when guarded by Defensive Player of the Year Finalist Mikal Bridges. But Bradley’s statistical peers — small guards; either unseasoned youngsters or overcooked NBA-elders — indicate that, despite coaches continuing to favor him in their rotations, his presence among the league’s weakest deterrents of clean looks is no fluke.
Also, as a big-time ball-watcher, Bradley’s attentiveness to his man would often wane as soon as they gave up the rock, leading to far too frequent back-cuts and blown rotations.
The Basketball Index’s holistic assessment was a bit kinder than the raw data or eye test, assigning Bradley’s overall perimeter defense a C+ due to his 99th percentile matchup difficulty, ability to create deflections, and navigate screens. Still, his lack of verticality in the paint and on the boards dragged down his overall defensive value to a D per the Basketball Index’s LEBRON impact metric.
Bradley’s other nickname according to Basketball-Reference, “Poison,” would have been a perfect descriptor for his offensive impact this season. Despite shooting almost 40% from downtown this season, Avery Bradley’s package of offensive offerings was arguably the most detrimental to his team’s production in the entire NBA this season, especially given how often he was on the floor.
The effect of Bradley’s sharpshooting was hampered by the almost exclusively wide-open nature of his attempts, limiting the gravitational pull the threat of him scoring from beyond the arc should have theoretically created.
As a poor ball-handler, floor-reader, and playmaker, Bradley’s overall offensive impact according to LEBRON graded out as an F. Basketball Index Founder Tim/Cranjis McBasketball noted in February that Bradley’s O-LEBRON was a half-point worse than the infamously porous Trae Young’s D-LEBRON. While that was no longer true by the end of the season, it wasn’t due to Bradley’s improvement. That gap had actually widened, with Bradley almost incomprehensibly finishing 1.4 points per 100 possessions worse on offense than Trae Young was on defense.
And this week, Bradley’s biggest hater put an even finer point on where the value of his output stands amongst other big-league contributors:
Avery Bradley had such a negative impact season -4.0(!!) per 100 that our LEBRON projections have him done in the NBA after this year.— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) April 29, 2022
That math had him at -2.6M in on-court value this year.
That is negative $2.6 million, as in Avery Bradley was so bad that he effectively cost the Lakers the equivalent of another veteran’s minimum salary. The Lakers would have received greater on-court value from that payroll expenditure by withdrawing Bradley’s salary from the team’s cash account and lighting it on fire at center court like an anti-capitalist redux of the ill-conceived and similarly-fated Disco Demolition Night.
Although Bradley shouldn’t be considered among the Lakers’ biggest disappointments, given the catastrophic nature of the team’s season and that there shouldn’t have been many preseason expectations for the 31-year-old veteran to begin with, he was absolutely one of the weakest and overused links in the rusty chain that was the Lakers’ 2021-22 rotation.
What is his contract situation moving forward?
With his one-year guaranteed veteran’s minimum deal expiring at the end of the NBA year (June 30), Bradley will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, free to sign with whichever team next employs Frank Vogel (or Doc Rivers).
Should he be back?
If the Lakers are still an NBA franchise, absolutely not.
Cooper is a lifelong Laker fan who has also covered the Yankees at SB Nation’s Pinstripe Alley — no, he’s not also a Cowboys fan. You can hear him on the Lakers Multiverse Podcast and find him on Twitter at @cooperhalpern.