Paul Flannery, as Paul Flannery does more often than just about anybody, did a fantastic job detailing why Avery Bradley deserves the Most Improved Player Award in a column published three days ago. You should read the entire piece if you haven’t already, but here are the meat and bones of Bradley’s Most Improved case:
Bradley’s rise is no less remarkable. He played only 162 undistinguished minutes last season as a rookie. He took 67 shots, missed 44 of them and scored almost half his points in a 20-point outburst on the season’s final day in a glorified exhibition against the Knicks. He had more turnovers (16) than assists (12) and a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 2.2.
In his second season, Bradley has played more than 1,200 minutes and is shooting better than 50 percent from the floor and 44 percent from 3-point range. His defense has been otherworldly at times and since his surprise insertion into the starting lineup on March 25, the Celtics had gone 12-5 and moved from the back of the pack in the Eastern Conference playoff race to the top of the Atlantic Division.
They are more than five points tougher on defense when Bradley is on the court than when he’s off and the new-look starting lineup is a rather absurd 18.72 points better than the opposition per 100 possessions. His backdoor cuts have become a prominent feature of their offensive sets – something he developed during the year — and his suddenly reliable 3-point shooting has been nothing short of a revelation. (Since replacing Ray Allen as a starter, Bradley has made 18-of-30 shots from behind the arc).
In other words, Bradley went from coloring outside the lines with crayon to sculpting statues out of marble in one season. The other day Kevin Garnett said that Bradley is playing as well as anybody in the NBA right now. Sitting behind my tape recorder I kind of chuckled. But after Bradley exploded against the Hawks, I thought about KG’s comments again and realized, “Holy shit, Avery Bradley is averaging 22 points per game on 60 percent shooting and 70 percent three-pointers over his last five games, and he’s doing that while playing the league’s best perimeter defense, even when he needs to tie his shoe.” He’s obviously not playing better ball than anyone on the planet, but he’s not nearly as far away as I, or you, or even Bradley’s mother, expected.
Jeremy Lin’s a qualified MIP candidate even if he missed almost half the season due to injuries and DNP-CDs. Harden’s qualified even if he won’t get it, Ryan Anderson is deserving in Orlando, DeMarcus Cousins became a monster in Sacramento, and I’m rather partial to Ersan Ilyasova of the Milwaukee Bucks. But nobody has improved more than Bradley did from last season, and nobody else has exploded from “out of the rotation” to “major reason his team is being discussed as contenders” like Bradley. Remember, Bradley literally feared practice last season because he felt uncomfortable even running through drills. He spent a week with Doc Rivers this offseason just because last season went so poorly, and the young combo guard hoped to build some kind of bond with his coach. He lost his rotation spot to E’Twaun Moore earlier this season, yet now ranks as A) one of the biggest reasons for Boston’s mid-season turnaround and B) an enormous light fixture brightening Boston’s future.
Avery Bradley is one of a handful of deserving MIP candidates. He’d get my vote, if only because I’ve seen him every day and have been shocked like anybody else by his rapid progression.