(Editor’s note: This feature will continue until I have written about each of the Boston Celtics. Or until I have bored you all enough that Celtics Town has no more readers. Whichever comes first.)
When the Celtics drafted Avery Bradley last summer, I initially reacted with a wintry mix of fury and disgust. My thoughts ranged from, “Um, he averaged 11 points and 2 assists last season, guys,” to “Yeah, the Celtics definitely need a backup point guard—because Rondo spends so many minutes on the bench. Doh,” to, “I saw him play at Texas and barely even noticed him on the court. Repeatedly pulling ‘the chameleon’ is always a recipe for a great pro. Ugh.”
Over time, I talked myself into the selection. Bradley could defend at an NBA level since being in the womb, was rated higher than John Wall during high school, possesses athleticism most point guards could only dream of, and did I say he was once considered better than John Wall? The pick wasn’t perfect, but at least I could see Bradley’s tremendous upside potential. Even if his game clearly came equipped with holes that were more like craters.
The season began and Bradley offered little to change my opinion. As everyone promised, he could “put players in a phone booth” defensively (his old coach’s words, not mine). Reminiscent of an in-his-prime Lindsey Hunter, all the way down to his could-be-male, could-be-female name, Bradley guards full-court and he aims to suffocate his opposition. He moves his feet laterally as well or better than 99.5% of NBA point guards. He disturbs and disrupts an offense by stealing a point guard’s rhythm, making it difficult to dribble the ball upcourt and set up an offense. On at least one occasion, Bradley’s very first defensive possession in a game ended with an opponent’s pocket picked and Bradley racing the other way for an easy deuce. Watching Bradley put players in handcuffs, I found myself wishing Eddie House still played with the Celtics. Not just because I still have a soft spot for House’s three-pointers and trash-talking antics (ask Rafer Alston about those), but also because the thought of Eddie “Do I Really Have to Dribble?” House being defended by Bradley every day in practice sounded cruel yet immensely fun. House probably would have advanced the ball to midcourt on no more than 50% of his possessions. I think I’m exaggerating, but I might not be. Only a rookie, Bradley already proved himself as the type of defender who will steal your lunch and eat it, too.
Bradley’s defense was NBA-ready from day one, but his offense still exists as a tiny dot in the rearview mirror. Watching Bradley handle a basketball and attempt to play point guard is like watching a woman’s husband meet her boyfriend; the sight is at once terrifying, awkward and unfortunate, and disaster always looms as a possible result. It isn’t that Bradley needs help with certain aspects of the point guard position; he almost needs to rebuild his entire game from scratch. While Bradley showed brief flashes of being capable (the Celtics’ final regular season game in particular held a lot of highlights), hesitance and confusion were more often the results of his opportunities on the court. As an offensive player, he shows limited ball-handling skills, a broken outside jumper (his form isn’t bad, so there’s hope), and a clear lack of creativity and fluidity that hinders everything he does. His level of comfort running the Celtics offense is the same level of comfort Tiger Woods has when visiting his former in-laws. He entered the NBA with a lot of rough edges, and a nagging ankle injury that kept him out of training camp, limited his preseason reps and bothered him through most of the season did not help his development.
A year after being drafted, Bradley holds the same upside as ever but also raises the same red flags. Nothing about Bradley’s offensive production paints him as a rising star. To believe in his future is to trust Danny Ainge, trust Bradley’s natural athleticism, and trust that hard work will ultimately erase many of Bradley’s numerous shortcomings. By all accounts, Bradley used year one to soak everything in. He listened to his veteran teammates. He observed Rajon Rondo’s point guard skills. Surrounded by many true professionals, Bradley used the year to absorb whatever he could about Boston’s offense, the point guard position, and playing in the NBA.
After Bradley dealth with a rookie campaign that held more learning experiences than impact minutes, this offseason is essential to his development. His defense already glistens, but his offense needs a makeover. It’s time to get to work.