[Editor's note: Please welcome new author Kevin Henkin who has joined us along with the Celtics Stuff Live crew]
When it comes to Avery Bradley, for most Celtics fans, he probably fits most neatly into the category of "out of sight, out of mind". The team is winning with a roster that is deep and experienced. Thus, it's easy to forget about their first round draft pick from last summer, especially as he remains stuck on a shelf indefinitely nursing his surgically repaired left ankle.
Personally, I've remained steadily curious about Bradley throughout. Maybe it's the intrigue of the unknown. Bradley only saw 16 minutes on the court during the preseason and he's remained inactive with ankle recovery woes (and roster limitations) since the start of the regular season. Still, I've stayed hungry for answers in terms of what we can expect when Bradley is actually healthy and perhaps gets an opportunity to get into the rotation.
Since those answers can't come from us observers here in Boston, I went hunting elsewhere. Specifically, I spoke with a couple beat writers in Texas who watched Bradley for the duration of his only season in Austin, as well as Bradley's high school coach at Findlay Prep in suburban Las Vegas. Ironically enough, I've come away from those conversations with fair insights, yes, but also a slew of new questions about the rookie combo guard.
Consistent with scouting reports, all three Bradley observers agree that he offers explosive speed, lockdown defensive abilities and an unselfish attitude on the court. After that, however, you find a divergence of opinions on what Bradley has to offer at the NBA level.
In terms of positives, Coach Michael Peck* - whose Findlay team won the high school national championship in 2009 with Bradley as his best player - lauds his former star's mid-range game as his primary offensive weapon.
* As a side note, it's important to understand that Peck isn't just any high school coach. He runs a veritable basketball factory of players generally headed to top Division I programs upon graduation. Also, before taking over at Findlay, he was an assistant coach for three years at UNLV under Charlie Spoonhour and Lon Kruger. In other words, his opinion carries some weight when it comes to assessing basketball talent.
"I always described him as kind of a Rip Hamilton," said Peck. "He had the best mid-range game that I've ever seen in terms of elite players at our level. He just had an unbelievable pull-up midrange jumper. For us, he was so fast and quick and strong enough to get by people but then elevate and get up there and shoot that thing."
Of course, whether or not Bradley can get the midrange shot off against bigger opposing players in the NBA remains to be seen. The mid-range comparison to Hamilton may indeed be apt but at 6-7 in the swingman position, size hasn't generally been so much of an issue for Rip to overcome. On the plus side, Avery Bradley comes advertised with a 37.5 inch vertical leap. While not exactly within the Gerald Green/48 inch stratosphere of superior release points, it should still help Bradley deal with his 6-2 size disadvantage as a combo guard.
As for Bradley's potential with longer range shooting, Mark Rosner - a beat writer assigned to the University of Texas for The Austin American-Statesman - witnessed a fair amount of inconsistency from Bradley last year.
"His three-point shooting at Texas was great against some bad Big 12 opponents that left him open to help inside against the Texas big guys. He had a harder time shooting against better teams that did not leave him open. He slumped at the end of the season. Some of that was probably psychological after the season [fell apart]. I think he is potentially better than he showed last season."
Regardless, Bradley's work on the other end of the court is what will likely earn him an opportunity from Doc Rivers to play. Interestingly enough, during our discussion, Coach Peck touched upon a couple of aspects of Bradley's defense that haven't been widely acknowledged.
Addressing whether Bradley tends to garner steals by gambling and cheating into the passing lanes, a knock that was sometimes put on Rajon Rondo early in his NBA career, Peck said, "With us, and watching Avery, honestly, I don't think he does that. I never experienced it with him where he gambled and reached and did that. With Rondo, it's probably my guess is that he's got such long arms and big hands that he kind of baits people to think, ‘Oh, I've gotten by you' but really he's got an extra four inch reach and long hands that he can go ahead and still get it. Avery's got a good wing span (6-7 and ¼ inches) but it's not like Rondo's. He's not quite as long and rangy."
Will Anderson, who followed Bradley last season as a beat writer for The Daily Texan, agrees with that assessment.
"I'd have to say he's more disciplined [than gambling for steals]. He was more like John Wall in using his foot speed to take the ball away from his assigned man."
Peck added, "One thing [Bradley] can and will do is really guard on the ball and he's really great on the pick and roll."
This is where the issue of what position Bradley is best suited to play truly comes to the forefront. On one hand, based on the claims above, you can see Bradley serving as a menace on opposing point guards even as they simply try to bring the ball up the court (credit is due to Jay King of Celtics Town for already making the early comparison to Lindsey Hunter). Obviously, there's real value to having a player serve that specific role on your roster.
On the other hand, Bradley has never spent meaningful time at point guard and on the occasions he did, he was less than stellar. In fact, according to Anderson, Bradley's discomfort at the point guard position on offense even had a negative impact on the defensive end.
"When [Bradley] is playing point guard, I think he's thinking about it too much," Anderson said. "He's not as natural at the position so it hurts his defense as well, when he's too caught up in trying to be a point guard and trying to run the whole court. When he's playing the shooting guard, his offense is much more natural and it translates to him not over-thinking his defense."
Rosner concurred: "Two former college coaches told me early on that they thought he could play point guard. I don't think the Texas coaches agreed, and frankly, I don't think he showed great vision when he dribbled. On the other hand, he is unselfish and willing to pass."
Rosner also offered up a couple of additional observations about Bradley's ball handling skills. "His handle is decent, not great. He didn't go to his left much, which was noticeable."
As for basketball IQ, Anderson's opinion on Bradley's was mixed.
"The NBA scouts had his physical and talent level off the charts, ten out of ten the whole way but the mental and physical preparedness were lower. I think he could have benefitted from more time in college. He's got a fair basketball IQ but he relies much more on his natural talent."
Coach Peck offered a similar albeit more positively spun assessment. "At our level," he said, "Avery was so much more athletic and explosive and stronger than a lot of the opponents that he faced that just the natural ability and talent allowed him to have success. But when he did face some teams that had some talent that were a little closer to his neck of the woods, he was able to play off the ball and use his mind a little bit and use his pace and angles instead of just ripping and going."
So there you have it. On the defensive end, you may just have the second coming of Lindsey Hunter under development, or at least a Rondo in terms of foot speed and instincts. On offense, however, the picture is far cloudier and isn't likely to clear up anytime soon, or at least until Bradley gets on the parquet floor and unveils his raw game for the fans in Boston.