Sanity Check with Avery Bradley: Did We Really See What We Think We Saw?

I was trading comments on a Celtics blog last winter, and the subject was Avery Bradley. Let me be more specific. The topic was actually Avery Bradley's jump shot. The question? Can you think of any guards in the history of the Boston Celtics with worse jump shots that Old Number Zero?

Here were some of the answers:

Quinn Buckner
Dirk Minnifield
Charles Smith


Let's just say that isn't pleasant company for a point-guard (and sometimes “shooting” guard) to be in. Right about this time, Glenn "Doc" Rivers found himself in the unenviable position of telling reporters that Avery Bradley, despite what everyone saw, was actually a quite competent shooter. Right, Doc. 

Then, something happened. Indeed, whatever it is that happened was so miraculous that I can't be the only Celtics fan  rubbing my eyes, wondering if what I saw really did happen. Well, folks, let me assure you. It did. Avery Bradley went from third-class citizen and borderline draft bust to a player who now many think is critical to the fortunes of the 2012-13 Boston Celtics.

Say what?

It all started with the March 25th game against the Wiz. Shooting guard Ray Allen was hobbled by an ankle injury. Doc Rivers made the interesting decision of replacing him in the starting line-up with Agent -0-. Bradley made the most of his opportunity, turning the game into his personal coming-out party. The second-year pro scored a career-high 23 points in the 88-76 victory, and sparked the Celtics in their brief return to TD Garden after an eight-game road trip, especially early, when he had 15 first-quarter points. Bradley played 40 minutes that night, and continued to log heavy minutes thereafter. In the three previous games Bradley hadn't broken the 20-minute barrier.

But, you know, being Celtics fans, we simply shrugged and went about our business. We’re all familiar with the one-hit wonders of the world (Glenn McDonald, Gerald Henderson, Michael Smith, Marcus Webb, Todd Day, insert your own). Surely, adding Avery Bradley to this list did little to ignite our inner fire.

Then came April. 

Are you ready? You may want to take a seat.

AB wasted no time in trying to distinguish himself from the aforementioned footnotes of Celtics history. How did he do it? Oh, well, the month started out humbly enough. In game 1, Mr. Bradley thought it might be time to contest a dunk attempt by the opposition. Not only did he successfully block the shot, but in the process he sent the would-be-dunker to the seat of his pants in thunderous fashion. It only made the play more memorable that the player treated so ignominiously by Bradley wore a Miami Heat uniform, sporting a number 3 on his back. Dwayne Wade. It didn’t hurt either that the Celtics won the game by 19.

But wait. It got better.

For the month of April, playing 33 minutes per contest, Avery Bradley averaged 15 points a game, while shooting .520 from the field and .545 from three (seriously). For a guy who, less than two months earlier, I was comparing to a former drug addicted Celtics point guard from the 80s, I'm telling you Avery Bradley was now looking more like Kevin Durant than he was Dirk Minnifield. Others must have agreed, as he earned (gasp) Player of the Month votes:

He didn't land the honor, but Celtics second-year shooting guard Avery Bradley was one of six Eastern Conference players nominated for the final Player of the Month award of the season. Bradley, who averaged 15.1 points while shooting 52 percent from the floor in 15 April appearances, lost out to New York's Carmelo Anthony. Atlanta's Josh Smith and Joe Johnson, Indiana's David West, and Miami's LeBron James were also nominated

Oh hum. You know, LeBron James, Melo, and, ah, yes, Avery Bradley.

And the votes kept coming.

Next Bradley earned votes for Defensive Player of the Year.

Only slightly less impressive were the votes he earned for league's most improved player. By the way, I see Andrew Bynum garnered more votes for this award than did young Avery. Will someone please explain to me how the starting center for two world championship teams is perceived as improving more than a player previously thought to be one of the worst shooting guards in team history?

Once Bradley shed his Clark Kent duds, it became painfully obvious to me what had been transpiring at the trade deadline. Of course, Danny was shopping Rondo! And, no, it wasn't for a point guard. We already had Rondo's replacement on the roster. And, as we saw Bradley emerge from the telephone booth, something else occurred to us. Boy, this kid reminds me of a certain other guard from the 1980s who was actually pretty good. An all-star even. Let me think. Tough defender, wild-eyed competitor, with a jumper that could get wetter than rain. I think he played for Atlanta. Oh yes, he did. Doc Rivers, who just so happens to be Agent Zero’s coach.

Sure, Bradley's season ended prematurely, and this casts doubt over his future. But let's not worry too much about that now. The kid is young. I'm going to assume full recovery. Hey, Michael Jordan broke his foot in 1985, and I seem to recall his hoops career turned out alright.
OK, I’m sure you’re sick of reading my prose by now. So here are some thoughts from ESPN:

While some go through a sophomore slump, it was a sophomore surge for Bradley, whose opponent-infuriating on-ball defense opened all sorts of opportunities for him. Some were left wondering if the Celtics would still be playing basketball if Bradley hadn't undergone season-ending shoulder surgery during the playoffs. 

Bradley's ascension to the starting lineup in the final month of the season was truly remarkable -- and much deserved with the way he played. We debated an A- grade because of how much he exceeded start-of-the-year expectations, but we held back only because of his limited role the first three months of the season. It's no surprise that Boston played some of its most inspired ball with him aiding the first unit. Again, you can't help but wonder how things might have played out if the Celtics had his defensive talents on the floor to help combat the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. 

One underappreciated aspect of his game: Bradley was excellent in transition -- more young legs for Rondo to run with -- and Synergy Data suggest the Celtics need to find ways to run him off more screens (Bradley scored 24 points on 17 possessions -- 1.412 points per play -- and ranked in the 98th percentile). Consider this: Ray Allen ranked 44th in the league (230 points on 213 possessions; 1.08 points per play)


Lex said...

Bradley had 20 in the glorified scrimmage that was last year's regular-season finale against the Knicks. But in last night's 88-76 wasting of Washington at the Garden, he opened for the injured Ray Allen and had 13 points just 4:55 after tipoff, and went on to make his first seven shots.

Could it be that coach Doc Rivers is to Bradley what Dean Smith was to Michael Jordan?

"Yeah, I've been holding him back," deadpanned Rivers. "I hold everybody back."

More accurately, Bradley's offense has been grounded to a small voice of doubt that shows up occasionally and sits on his shooting shoulder. You got a better way to explain why a guy quick enough to get his shot off against anybody has been so tentative?

"I think that has to come from experience, man," said Paul Pierce. "In practice, we see him knock down those shots every day. But until you get in-game experience, it's a different ballgame.

"At the beginning of the year, he got a lot of those open shots that he didn't make because he didn't have in-game experience. Once he gets comfortable and plays more and more minutes and takes those shots over and over and over again, we know he can make those shots. He didn't even hesitate tonight when he got those shots."

FLCeltsFan said...

Yep, AB was a revelation. I think the fact that Rondo had someone at the 2 to run with who didn't need 3 or 4 screens to get open was a huge boost for the team. I sure won't miss watching Rondo fiddle and diddle with the ball while waiting for Ray to run through multiple screens to get open for his shot.

Confidence is a wonderful thing to watch unfold sometimes.

bballee said...

I've seen a lot of speculation that Avery's breakout was just an aberration but I'm with you guys, the confidence genie is not going back into the bottle. I think Lee will be a pleasant surprise and a starting-quality shooting guard. I think Bradley will emerge this year as a star-quality shooting guard, albeit an undersized one.

Lex said...

I'm a little nervous that AB gives so much credit to RA, especially shot-wise.

Instead of an ah hah moment, it would be an uh oh moment

FLCeltsFan said...

I agree with Lee. I don't see Avery losing the confidence he had last year. And I don't think he'll unlearn the things that Ray taught him whether he's here or not.

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