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How Will Avery Bradley Aid The Celtics' Long-Term Development?

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There's been a lot of talk about the Celtics' point guards this summer, but the guy playing the two is a cornerstone of the team's future.

Time to lead the Celtics up, up, up.
Time to lead the Celtics up, up, up.
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

It's somewhat odd that ever since draft night 11 weeks ago, a great deal of the offseason conversation surrounding the Celtics has been centered around the team's two point guards, Rajon Rondo and Marcus Smart. The two players are among the most talented on Brad Stevens' roster, and no doubt the team's future hinges in a big way on their respective futures. But I call it odd because despite all the reasons to tout the importance of Rondo and Smart heading into the 2014-15 season, neither is the one to whom Boston agreed this summer to commit $32 million.

That, of course would be Avery Bradley.

In a way, Bradley is the most important Celtic of all for us to talk about. Amid all the uncertainty about the team's future, Bradley is one guy that we know for a fact Danny Ainge plans to feature and build around. Rondo could be gone any minute; Smart could be a bust and it wouldn't ultimately matter, since he's only being paid pocket change. But Bradley's getting big money from the Celtics right now, and he's going to continue getting it through the summer of 2018. So let's talk about why.

It's unclear what the Celtics are building in the coming years, but we know Bradley is a part of it. Questions will abound about the prospects at the point guard spot - Is Rondo holding it down? Will Rondo bolt and hand Smart the keys? Will Rondo stay for a while, show Smart the ropes, then leave? - but when it comes to Bradley and the two-guard position, there's no waffling. It's his job to make the most of it.

Which is interesting, because Bradley brings to the table a mishmash of skills that both wonderfully fit the position and, sort of, don't. Of course, the word on Bradley from the very beginning has been that he can play elite defense against any guard in the league - and for the most part, that still holds true. Bradley is a relentless ball-hawker who applies pressure just enough to disrupt an offense, but not too much to sneak into "gambler" territory. He's pretty great. As for his offensive game, Bradley has evolved as a scorer by finding sweet spots on the floor where he can consistently hit shots. From the mid-range, especially at the top of the key or on either wing, there are few guys you'd rather green-light.

There are still question marks with Bradley, though. One is his size - he's listed at 6-foot-2 which, speaking as a taller guy who's stood next to Bradley more than a few times, I'd guess is fairly generous. His height is an issue on both ends of the floor at the shooting guard spot - it's the reason he has trouble guarding certain matchups, and it's a factor behind his mediocre ability to score at the rim (52.4 percent last season according to NBA.com stats, which is frustratingly low for someone with his insane quickness). Bradley's relatively tiny frame is a reason he's been labeled as a point guard/shooting guard tweener for much of his career.

Having said all that, he's playing the two now. The Rondo/Smart logjam makes that fairly clear - Ainge didn't give Bradley the $32 mil to stick him with the third unit. So this season, the challenge for Bradley will be to take his existing two-guard skills and keep improving them. We know what Bradley can do, but can he do it even better?

-Can he continue to shoot the corner 3, and maybe bring his numbers (a respectable 46-for-126 last year) up a little more?

-Can he develop some crafty moves that enable him to score efficiently closer to the basket?

-Can he keep honing his versatility as a defender, guarding everyone from the quickest young pointmen to the biggest two-guards at an All-NBA level?

-What about his leadership? Bradley is currently the second longest-tenured guy on the roster; if Rondo leaves, Bradley will be the senior Celtic. Can he nurture a young roster and help everyone around him grow?

These are the questions we'll be looking to answer this season. The Celtics aren't likely to win much of anything in 2015, but they do have a considerable amount of talent worth grooming, so the name of the game will be development. With Bradley, the hope is that he'll not only grow considerably, but also help his teammates do the same.

The Celtics are in a good spot with Bradley. They know what he is. There are some other guys on the roster that still have huge question marks about their in-game roles. With Kelly Olynyk, there's a glaring need to learn NBA-level defense. As for Jared Sullinger, he's shooting miserably from 3-point range, and he's got to figure out whether to improve the shot or surrender it. With Rondo, there's, well... his very presence.

We don't have any of these fundamental questions with Bradley. He's here, he's a cornerstone player, and we know what he can do. Now it's time to see just how well he can do it. Let's find out if A.B. is worth that cool $32 million.