The math is simple: take a ferocious on-ball defender that opposing point guards have politely asked to back off and give him a silky smooth jump shot. That's Avery Bradley. Fans have been critical with Danny for letting Tony Allen go and they'll be equally curious over the next two weeks with how he deals with Ray Allen as a bargaining chip, but maybe-just maybe-he may have found both Allens in the shy kid from Tacoma, WA.
Since the championship season in 2008, the Celtics have had the uncanny ability to develop drafted players outside of the lottery and made them solid contributors. Four years ago, it was pairing the Big Three with a relatively unproven Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins. That same year, Leon Powe came out of nowhere and and practically won Game 2 of the Finals on his own. Other alumni include Tony Allen and Baby Davis, who both carved out supporting roles on the Boston bench to make themselves commodities for other teams. We're seeing the same development with Avery and he's finally blossoming in his second season.
Yesterday, I suggested making Rondo our sixth man, and although that might be a little hyperbolic, Bradley's emergence as a solid contributor is not. I glossed over it, but Jessica Camerato's piece on Avery's maturation should serve not only as an indication of what AB is providing on the court, but how he has embraced what being a Celtic is all about.
His parquet progress is undeniable. Coming out of the University of Texas, draft experts compared him to Monta Ellis. He was quick and had a pure perimeter jumper. Before the last couple of weeks, most of us would have doubted those NBA scouts. The kid had beautiful form but there were nights that when left open, Avery would clank them off the side of the rim and maybe even shoot an air ball. His inability to hit his outside shot even prompted Doc to compare him to Andre Miller, a veteran guard known for getting easy buckets at the rim. And then something awesome happened right before the all star break. Avery Bradley shined during Rondo's two game suspension. He was hitting from the perimeter and that opened up driving lanes. Of course he isn't on par with the NBA's all-time leader in three pointers, but defenses aren't exactly shading off him like they do with Rondo. But even with all this success, what I love about the kid is that he's still rooted in what has provided him his playing time: his defense.
I just always try to focus on playing defense because I know, like I always tell people, you can have an off offensive game but I feel like you can never have an off defensive game.
For the Celtics, defense isn't just the other side of the ball. It's what binds the group together and defines their character on the court. To that effect, it's no surprise that this is where Avery has drawn his confidence. What I found interesting about Camerato's profile on Bradley was that Avery didn't draw his defensive zeal from the most obvious mentor in Kevin Garnett. It's been long regarded that Garnett is the team quarterback and middle linebacker on defense and his treatment of rookies can be harsh at times. I would have thought that Avery's ball-hawking would have come from an impassioned speech from KG, but no. Avery's quiet resolve came from a more understated elder statesman, Ray Allen. Ray noted:
He'll always come to me and ask me what I thought about it or how did I perceive it. When the game starts off, he'll ask what do I see out there on the floor, what's going on out there. You can tell he watches, he observes, he asks. Instead of formulating his own opinion, he gets opinions and then tries to determine how he feels about certain things. For me, that's a very smart vantage point because he's learning. He's not necessarily saying he agrees with what I feel or what I think, but he's developing his own based off my opinion, and I'm sure he does it for other guys. For a young guy, that's definitely a very wise and smart approach to take.
We can argue whether or not Avery Bradley deserves more playing time and/or another contract based on his quantifiable stats and how he performs in game, but the intangibles of his character cement him as a Celtic in my book. With all this talk of rebuilding, it's comforting knowing that the youngest Celtic today accepts veteran wisdom like a sponge and is equally willing to dish out advice to the rookies. So, maybe the formula isn't as simple as Tony Allen + Ray Allen = Avery Bradley. Maybe it's dropping down as a lottery pick + recovering from surgery in your rookie season + playing scared in practice + weeks in the D-League + playing overseas during the lockout + finally getting your shot = Avery Bradley. Whatever it is, we should all appreciate what it has added up to.