Last night, Avery Bradley provided the answer to a question that is almost never asked: How does an NBA point guard manage to play 41 minutes while scoring just three points, totaling six turnovers and contributing seven assists, few of which were due to his own play-making?
Defensively, as usual, Bradley used his quickness to disrupt plays and take the Washington Wizards out of their offensive sets (some of you might ask, “what offensive sets?”). But his offensive play was characteristically uneven and choppy, his elite athleticism stifled by a lack of basketball awareness. When the ball rests in Boston’s corner, Bradley continues to struggle learning how to utilize his considerable physical tools.
In the following play, Bradley uses his supremely quick first step to burst by John Wall (who is a surprisingly average defender despite possessing physical tools to die for), but then displays his normal lack of basketball awareness once he reaches the painted area.
“Look. JaVale McGee is coming. I’M GOING TO RUN AS FAST AS I CAN AND PRAY I GET MY SHOT OFF BEFORE HE BLOCKS MY SHOT ACROSS THE MEXICAN BORDER!”
Unfortunately, Bradley did not learn from his mistakes. We pick things up with six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
Again, per usual, Bradley is capable of avoiding his initial defender. It’s once the second wave of defense comes that he struggles with decision-making, largely due to an inability to switch speeds. Bradley starts drives with his pedal to the metal and only picks up steam on his way to the hoop. He rarely, if ever, uses a hesitation dribble, a move that the best point guards — think Chris Paul — make on a very routine basis. The result is that Bradley is all too predictable (and blockable) on his forays to the rim.
Bradley’s inability to change speeds also manifests itself into unnecessary turnovers, such as when he plows into planted defenders to accrue a charging violation.
A more controlled point guard might have stopped, pivoted and hit the trailing Bass for a short jumper, or perhaps circled the ball out and started the half-court offense. Instead, Bradley became a bowling ball bullish on picking up the last three pins for a spare.
The Celtics’ backup guard has demonstrated an ability to find open mid-range jumpers, which often leads Tommy Heinsohn to drool about Bradley’s offensive talent. (Heinsohn also believes Bradley can heal broken bones with a single touch, throw six strikeouts in a single inning, and defeat Mike Tyson in Mike Tyson’s Punch Out even with his eyes closed and his hands behind his back). The problem is that very few of Bradley’s outside shots fall — according to Hoop Data, the guard is shooting just 37.5 percent from the field, including 16.7 percent from three-point range (he is surprisingly shooting 50 percent from 16-23 feet, but — based on the way his misses harshly clang off the rim or backboard — that could be due to a small sample size).
Bradley is able to manufacture mid-range shots for two main reasons:
1) other teams desperately want him to shoot, and
2) due to his quickness, his pull-ups are genuinely tough to contest.
Watch the following play, Boston’s last in the third quarter. Bradley unfathomably waves everyone else off so he can take the last shot, as if he’s Boston’s go-to guy, then works a pick-and-roll with Brandon Bass.
Take a look at a still picture of Jordan Crawford begging Bradley to shoot. Crawford runs away from Bradley as New England Patriots should run from Bernard Pollard.
If he were more advanced in his basketball IQ, Bradley would have attacked Kevin Garnett’s defender and created space for a kick out to Garnett for a wide open jumper. Instead, Bradley settled for the shot, a decision that did not work out for the Celtics.
Bradley is a frustrating Celtic to watch because athletic ability pours out of his eyeballs but he has yet to harness it, yet he’s somebody fans want to root for because he’s a hard-working, seemingly humble kid (I can actually call him kid because he’s younger than I am). He makes a difference defensively and gives the Celtics a ball-hawk they haven’t had since Tony Allen, which doesn’t go unnoticed. But Bradley’s skills are incredibly raw and his understanding of how to use those skills is even more undeveloped, leading to a quagmire in which the young guard needs to play in order to improve, but should experience many growing pains along the way.