Avery Bradley's inconsistent production has drawn the ire of some Boston Celtics fans, especially since the 24-year-old signed a large contract extension this past summer, but he put his full potential on display in Friday's 119-101 loss to the Dallas Mavericks.
With all the focus on the return of Rajon Rondo, Bradley's 22-point performance will understandably get overlooked, but what he did in the fourth quarter is certainly worthy of our attention.
Bradley's lights it up from three
Bradley has underwhelmed from three-point range this year, at only 31.9 percent before last night's game, but as the season progresses, he should level out closer to his career average.
Celtics fans certainly hope that all started on Friday night, with Bradley's 3-for-6 showing from downtown. AB was short on all of his attempts in the first half, but caught fire in the forth quarter, sinking all three triples.
Bradley's first three came off a pin-down screen set by Tyler Zeller, and though he didn't handle the pass well, he stayed calm and pulled up off the dribble. The second one was mechanically sound, as he utilized "the hop" to quickly get the shot off before the defender closed out. And his final three was a classic "no-no-no-YES!" shot, with him snatching an offensive rebound, dribbling to the corner, and then firing away with 22 seconds left on the shot clock.
Over the course of the season it has become apparent that Bradley is very much a rhythm shooter, which is why his current 32.8 three-point percentage is so uninspiring, especially at 26.9 percent from above the break.
"I think it's just confidence, personally; it's the same with me," Bradley said when asked about Rondo's impressive and surprising shooting success against Boston. "If you have confidence out there in the game, anything's possible."
I don't subscribe to theory that it takes "confidence" to make a jumper - I think mechanics is the primary ingredient - however, it does take confidence to "take the shot." For example, Jordan Crawford has all the confidence in the world to shoot from anywhere, but he's not a knockdown shooter, he just isn't afraid of taking the shot. A player's success rate is due to mechanics and shot selection, but it might take confidence to take the shot and "feel good about it."
In Bradley's case, seeing the ball go through the cylinder a few times can lead to a clear state of mind when everything comes naturally, and the trained mechanics take over. With that said, it's crucial that Bradley continues taking these types of shots, so that he can build confidence. Eventually the shots will fall since his mechanics are flawless, much like they did at the end of last season when he turned into a ferocious force from deep.
Someone flipped AB's playmaking switch on
One thing Bradley has never been is a playmaker. With elementary ball handling skills and an even less advanced feel for passing, Bradley has always just been a scorer on the offensive end of the floor going back to his college years with the Texas Longhorns.
And there's nothing wrong with that at all. We saw the "Bradley point guard experiments" fail time and time again over the years, but he has done a fine job of playing full-time as a two-guard.
But Avery made my head turn with a few advanced dribbling moves and some even smoother passes off the dribble against Dallas. Bradley made it clear that he worked on his ball handling over the summer, which has thus far has helped him get to the basket in a sleeker manner, and last night's game provided some especially satisfying drives to the basket.
Bradley's best play came in the second quarter, when he drove hard baseline to the paint and drew the attention of three defenders before kicking out an accurate pass to a wide open Jeff Green, who drained the three. We sparingly witness plays like this from Avery, but it appears that his coaches want him to make it more of a habit.
"Avery was really good in the fourth quarter. He did a lot of good things in that quarter," Brad Stevens said. "I think he's getting better in [passing and ball handling areas of the game], and obviously we do a lot of dribble handoffs for him and a lot of wide pin-downs for him, those types of things, which he's pretty good off of. And our bigs do a good job of getting off the screen and rolling. Hopefully he can continue to develop in that area, because we need him to."
Since Stevens (thankfully) threw some real basketball lingo into his quote, here's an example of what he's talking about when he references a wide pin-down:
The off-ball screen Tyler Zeller sets on the left wing for Avery Bradley called a "wide pin-down." Bradley usually shoots off the catch in this action, or sometimes drives all the way to the rim, but seeing him pass with such conviction is something new.
It's an encouraging development, because there are certainly openings when the big man rolls after setting the screen, as was the case here. AB put the appropriate amount of zip on the ball to get it to Zeller's soft hands for the and-1 finish, and this is something I would love to see him attempt more often in the immediate future.
"It just opens up everything for me, not only me, but my teammates as well. I have to be aggressive," Bradley said of his developing playmaking abilities. "[The coaches] just want me to take what the defense gives me, slow down, and make plays for myself and my teammates."
Bradley spent the entire offseason working on his dribbling and added some basic change of speed and change of direction moves to his arsenal, which has helped him develop into a more versatile shooter, since he is more capable of comfortably attacking a closeout and pulling up for a mid-range jumper.
AB has also been much more effective at driving and scoring at the rim. On the season, he's shooting 47.2 percent on drives, according to SportVU, compared to just 38.9 percent from last year. This progression is likely due to his newfound ability to change speeds with subtle moves intended to give him just a little more breathing room as he attempts a layup.
Bradley has also had his shot blocked far less frequently, on just 11.5 percent of his shot attempts within five feet of the rim. Prior to 2014, 16.5 percent of his attempts were swatted away. Though it's a subtle difference and a small sample size, the percentage change does support observations derived from film study.
Avery Bradley's slow statistical start to the season has some Boston Celtics fans second-guessing the front office's decision to re-sign their young shooting guard to a four-year contract, but there have been plenty of positive developments over the course of the season, including his performance on Friday night. Bradley just needs to put it all together at the same time and sustain that level of production. At just 24-years-old, he fortunately has plenty of time to make that happen; all we need is just a little patience.