Reserve Roles: Avery Bradley or Von Wafer?

Based on everything we've read and heard, Avery Bradley and Von Wafer are two different types of basketball players, with two specific strengths: Bradley's regarded for his defense, while Wafer's known for his offense. Despite the apparent differences in their games, entering training camp, both players could very well be competing for the backup two-guard spot. 

While there are immediate doubts surrounding Bradley's potential contributions this coming season because he's a 19-year old unproven rookie coming off of offseason ankle surgery, he could still garner consideration and possibly obtain an edge because he's a defensive-minded player on a defensive-minded team. We've seen in years past examples of talented players not finding the court because they haven't bought into the Celtics' defensive schemes, with the most recent example coming just this past season in Nate Robinson. The only reason Robinson was given minutes late in the playoffs this past season was because he began to play the defense Doc Rivers was looking for. 

We don't have a large enough sample size to make an accurate assessment of Wafer's defense, so I don't want to discredit him in this area too much too soon. We really don't know too much about Wafer in general, besides the fact that the 6'5 guard was a serviceable payer for the Houston Rockets during the 2008-2009 season, when he averaged 9.7 points per game and shot 39 percent from three-point nation. But when the initial reports of the Celtics signing Wafer rolled in, the talk focused almost entirely on his offense and three-point shooting, and the lack of discussion regarding his defense said to me that we weren't signing a defensive-oriented guard. 

In an interview with HoopsWorld earlier this summer, Wafer acknowledged the importance of buying into the Celtics' defensive-schemes:

"I'm just going to go in and try to learn all of the defensive schemes because I know that's going to be big, depending on how much they utilize me."

Bradley, meanwhile, has already been lauded by Rivers for his defense. Here's what he had to say on draft night:

"I like his speed," Rivers said. "He has unbelievable speed. He has a good in-between game. He can make the spot-up jump shots. He's an NBA defender right now. He can play point guard defense on anybody in the league and that's huge for us."

Notice, though, how Doc said 'point guard defense', which actually highlights one of the reasons why Bradley might not find time at the off-guard spot this coming season. 

Bradley stands at 6'2, or 6'3, depending on which reports you read. His size could put him at a disadvantage at the position, especially when coupled with the in-all-likelihood backup point guard, Robinson, who stands at a mere 5'9. Those hoping Bradley can help to sure up the defensive gap left behind by the departed Tony Allen might not be realistic about the situation. After all, Allen helped to guard the Dwyane Wades, LeBron James', and Kobe Bryants of the world, all of whom stand at 6'4 or taller. 

Much like Wafer's defense is in question right now, Bradley's offensive game hasn't been explicitly explained just yet. Supposedly he can knock down open jump shots, but does he possess NBA three-point range? Is he a catch-and-shoot kind of guy? Does he shoot well off the dribble? Etc. We're not sure just yet, and the initial analysis praised his defense, for a specific reason. Right now, that appears to be the strongest part of his game. If he was a superb offensive player, or the next Ray Allen, or something like that, we would have undoubtedly heard about it by now. The same goes for Wafer and his defense. If he were great in that regard, we would know. 

As a result of these uncertainties, Wafer most likely holds the edge over Bradley heading into training camp. His actual NBA experience and playoff experience are nice bonuses, as well. You certainly can't blame the Celtics for wanting to add an offensive-oriented player like Wafer (most likely to add with the also offensive-oriented Robinson in the back court?), considering they ranked just 15th in the league in points per possession last season. Also, and I do hate to rip open old wounds, but the Celtics' fourth quarter collapse in Game 7 of the Finals had a lot to do with the team's inability to score points, particularly late in the third quarter and midway through the fourth. 

Boston went scoreless from the 2:12 mark of the third period to the 9:03 mark of the fourth frame (a 5 minute and nine second span), and again from the 6:28 mark of the fourth to the 3:45 mark of the fourth (a 2 minute and 43 second gap in which the Lakers assumed control). Wafer should be able to help in these areas, but that doesn't give him a free pass on the defensive end. He's going to have to adjust to the team's defensive schemes at some point, in some capacity, but if the overall offense is sputtering and Wafer can serve as a shot of adrenaline, it wouldn't shock me to see him get a slightly longer leash on defense. 

Of course, this point could become mute if Doc decides to stick one of the starters (most likely Ray Allen) in with the second unit. But, if Doc is serious once again about limiting the minutes of certain players, he'll have to strongly consider going with a full bench brigade as his second unit. As of right now, Wafer seems to hold the edge at the two-guard spot. 

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