Just how good is Avery Bradley’s Defense?

It is well known throughout the NBA that Avery Bradley is an elite defender, so what can the Detroit Pistons expect from him in the coming season?

It is well-known throughout the NBA that new Detroit Pistons guard Avery Bradley is an elite or lockdown defender. So much so, that when Bradley was left off the All-NBA Defensive team for last season, NBA players voiced their shock via social media. Bear in mind that the majority of players that put their thoughts out there, Bradley would have actually been responsible for defending. Devin Booker summed it up best

With Bradley’s recent move to the Detroit Pistons, he will come in and be their best perimeter defender, so let’s take a look at exactly how good he is, and what the Detroit Pistons can expect from his defense. Last season the Detroit Pistons were 20th in opponent field goal percentage and 21st in opponent three-point field goal percentage, so adding an elite defensive talent should help improve those numbers. While Bradley brings with him a defensive talent he also brings with him a tenacious defensive attitude that Detroit Pistons fans will love.

The majority of the stats do not point to Avery Bradley being an elite or lockdown defender, and this is most likely because he spent the majority of time, playing with a very poor defensive guard in the league, in Isaiah Thomas.

If we look at Bradley’s stats as an individual then we discover he had a defensive rating of 107.5 last season, a net rating of +1.2, a defensive rebound percentage of 16.1 and a defensive win share of 2, with a total win share of 3.1. So Bradley is a high-rebounding guard, who contributes more to wins from his defense than his offense, which isn’t really news.

What is interesting is that Bradley posted a career worst defensive rating last season, as did Isaiah Thomas; Bradley has a career average defensive rating of 101.7. To put that into perspective the player he is replacing, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has a career average defensive rating of 104.75.

If we take a look at Bradley’s defensive stats provided by Synergy (below), we can see that where Bradley spends the majority of his time on defense – guarding the ball handler, guarding spot up shooters and guarding off screens, he ranks in the 64th, 48th and 70th percentile respectively.

If we try to remove Isaiah Thomas from the numbers as he will skew them due to his poor defense, then we can take a look at the Boston Celtics top two three-man line-ups. The most used is Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Al Horford, with the second most used line-up swapping Thomas for Avery Bradley. The line-up with Bradley has a defensive rating 2.2 points better at 105.2.

If we then look at four-man line-ups the most used is Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Al Horford with 759 minutes. This line-up ended up with a defensive rating of 105.8 and a net rating of +7.1.

If we look at a different line-up and swap Bradley for Marcus Smart, that line-up played 578 minutes and ended up with a defensive rating of 110.9 and a net rating of +6.4. So in a like for like line-up switch Bradley ends up a whopping five points better defensively than his replacement, in Marcus Smart, who is still a pretty decent defender.

Let’s take a look at some video of Bradley’s defense:

First lets look at Bradley’s on ball defense, in a play where we see him hassling Brandon Jennings until he gets the steal and turns it into an easy bucket

Here we see Bradley with the perfectly timed double team in the post, getting the steal and again converting that into an easy jumper

And lastly we see Bradley fronting the taller Jimmy Butler in the post, and successfully denying the pass, and getting a steal

Avery Bradley is an extremely talented defensive player that has the skills, timing, instinct and the effort required to be an elite defender. Bradley’s defense doesn’t show purely from the stats, but when watching him play, and looking at plays we can truly understand how good a defensive player he is. The Detroit Pistons should become a much better defensive team now that he is a part of their team.