After his first extended (or at least somewhat extended) NBA playing time, it’s time to pass initial judgment on Avery Bradley. And, well, maybe Doc Rivers knew what he was doing by keeping the rookie firmly stapled to the bench.
Don’t get me wrong, Bradley has potential. Loads of it. He could become the league’s best defensive point guard, and it wouldn’t at all surprise me. He also has the athletic makeup to become an exciting, high-flying, penetrating guard who can break defenses down, get into the paint and score.
But if there’s one word to describe Bradley’s play so far, it would be “uncomfortable.” Nothing about his game looks natural yet, or smooth. There are certain players who dribble, and the ball looks like a yo-yo coming off their fingers. For players like Steve Nash, or Rajon Rondo, the ball is an extension of themselves. For, them dribbling is an effortless endeavor, a tight relationship between fingertips and ball forged by long hours in the gym and at the park.
For Bradley, whether it’s because his point guard skills still need work, or he just doesn’t yet hold confidence to perform at this level (and I wouldn’t blame him if that’s the case), or a combination of both, dribbling doesn’t seem so natural. I don’t want to say he looks pained while handling the ball, but it doesn’t flow off his fingertips like it should. Just ask Jeff Teague, who normally acts as a halfway-functional backup point guard, but looked like an All-Star as soon as Bradley entered the game. Bradley’s first offensive play against the Hawks resulted in a picked pocket and a Teague tomahawk dunk.
Bradley is thinking on the court, rather than using his instincts and supreme physical attributes to make plays. Likely, his indecisiveness is a product of his lack of practice time. Missing almost all of training camp, and the entire first month of the season, is tough on a rookie. Especially when the rookie in question is a young (one year removed from high school) and raw (albeit talented) player learning a new position (Bradley played shooting guard at Texas). Needing to learn the Celtics’ complex offensive and defensive schemes, Bradley’s injuries forced him into a late start. It could take all season for Bradley to look more comfortable, or it could take until next year, or it could take even longer than that.
Just don’t lose faith in the first-year guard. Because he’s the type of player who will improve, who is respectful and yearns to get better, and knows to utilize the Boston Celtics’ living resources.
A reporter asked Paul Pierce a question about Bradley after the Hawks game, and Pierce became animated.
“I really like the kid, actually,” Pierce said. “I see how he works and soaks up so much in practice and you can see him wanting to get better. He’s always asking questions and he’s always in the huddle.”
Bradley explained his mentality to WEEI reporter Paul Flannery.
“Seeing their success, I would feel dumb if I didn’t listen to those guys,” Bradley said. “They know what they’re talking about. When they tell me those things I want to listen so I can become a better player. They’re trying to help me all the time. When I do something wrong, they pull me aside and that just shows that they care about me and want the best for me.”
So don’t sour on Bradley yet. He’s 20 years old, and his learning curve was pushed back by injury. He’ll take time to develop, and he’s certainly a project, and it’s likely the Hawks game won’t be the last time he’s severely outplayed.
But he’s young, and more than willing to improve. Things will get better.
Even if not this year.