In a season filled with losses, disappointment and inconsistency, one constant bright spot for the Boston Celtics has been the impressive development of shooting guard Avery Bradley.
Bradley was the team’s best player in Monday’s 104-92 loss to the Houston Rockets with a team-high 24 points, 14 of which came in the first quarter to help Boston take an eight-point lead after 12 minutes. His ninth 20-point game of the season is a new personal best and leads the team.
Bradley said after the game that he didn’t do anything different offensively than normal, but he credited the team’s ball movement on the perimeter for creating open shots for the guards.
“We were just able to move the ball,” Bradley said. “The whole starting unit moved the ball well, and we were just able to make shots.”
Well, Bradley made shots. The rest of the team didn’t give him much help. The 23-year-old shooting guard went 11-for-21 from the floor, far better than the other four starters, who combined for just 29 points and shot 10-for-39.
With the Celtics losing a lot of offense over the summer when veterans Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry were traded to the Brooklyn Nets, in addition to Rajon Rondo missing all 39 games so far recovering from ACL surgery, Bradley has been forced into a more important role in the team’s offense, and he’s responded positively to the challenge.
The former Texas star has increased his points per game average by about five from last season, while also improving in several other statistics.
One of Bradley’s most notable improvements this season has been his outside shooting. He’s doing a much better job coming off screens and moving without the ball. When he’s not running the offense as the point guard, Bradley is finding the open spots on the perimeter and making himself available to the big men in the low post who are double-teamed or don’t have a good look at the hoop. The best shooters don’t just sit on the perimeter and wait for the ball — they adjust to the defense and put themselves in the best position.
From an offensive standpoint, Bradley is becoming a very good player, but his real value still comes on the defensive end. Few players excel defensively against the league’s elite scorers on a consistent basis, but Bradley is one of those guys, and his stellar performance against Rockets superstar James Harden on Monday was a good example.
Harden is one of the best scorers in the league (fifth in the NBA with 24.9 points per game) because of his good outside shot, quick first step and ability to penetrate perimeter defenses and finish at the rim.
“He’s a very good player,” Bradley said when asked about his matchup with Harden. “My mindset going into the game was to make everything hard on him.”
He accomplished this goal, with Harden finding it difficult to get clean shots off because the Celtics guard was in his face all night and contested almost every shot. Bradley also forced Harden to go to his right quite a bit, where he is a far less effective scorer off the dribble. Harden finished the night with 16 points on just 6-of-18 shooting, which ended a five-game streak of 25-plus points. It also was Harden’s third-lowest scoring output in games in which he’s played at least 35 minutes.
Bradley is a restricted free agent this offseason, and if his current production continues, he might earn as much as $8 million to $10 million per year in his new contract.
When the Celtics won the 2008 NBA title, one of the major reasons for the team’s success was James Posey‘s one-on-one defense against Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant. Bradley has a Posey-like impact on the Celtics defensively, and that alone is worth re-signing him long-term. It’s hard to find perimeter defenders as talented as Bradley, which makes keeping this kind of player a top priority for general managers.
Boston’s roster could look a lot different next season, but one player who must remain for the team to build a contender again is Bradley.