When Avery Bradley takes the court next month for the first game of his NBA career, he'll be facing lofty expectations from his fans, coaches and teammates in Boston.
The loftiest of all, though, will probably come from his peers in the Class of 2010.
The 19-year-old Bradley, who was selected 19th overall by the Celtics in this summer's draft, has already earned the respect of his fellow rookies before even taking an NBA floor. According to a poll of 40 rookies from around the league, Bradley is the league's best rookie defender.
The results of the league's rookie survey, released in an article published this weekend by John Schuhmann of NBA.com, show Bradley with a resounding lead over the rest of the pack. The C's youngster was tabbed as the class's best defensive player by 41.7 percent of rookies polled; the Kings' Hassan Whiteside was second at 8.3 percent, followed by the Timberwolves' Lazar Hayward and the Warriors' Ekpe Udoh each at 5.6.
Considering the circumstances, it's a landslide of Reagan-Mondale proportions. The Wizards' John Wall won a competitive vote for Rookie of the Year, the Pacers' Lance Stephenson emerged from a tight pack to win "most overlooked," and the Pistons' Terrico White faced a few fierce competitors in his way to win "most athletic."
But in the race for best defender, it was all Bradley — as it should be. Defense has been a calling card for the former Texas Longhorn since day one.
It was defense that enabled Bradley to lead his Nevada high school, Findlay College Prep, to a national championship in the spring of 2009.
It was defense that landed Bradley the No. 1 spot in ESPNU's list of the top prospects in his high school class.
And it was defense that put Bradley on the map in college, although he was often overlooked by flashier guards — like Wall, Evan Turner and Xavier Henry — who put up bigger numbers. So maybe it was defense that enabled him to slip all the way to Boston at No. 19 on draft night.
But Boston is the perfect landing spot for Bradley, who's an NBA-ready defender and a player with maturity beyond his years at 19. Bradley wanted a place where he could make an impact right away, and the Celtics wanted a guy who could leave his mark from the very beginning as a capable role player on a title contender. Both sides got exactly what they wanted.
No one in Boston has seen the kid in action yet. Bradley underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle on July 2, causing him to miss all of the Celtics' summer league action while he recuperates and prepares for the regular season. But Bradley is healthy now, and when the C's take the court next month, we'll all get to see what he can do.
He's going to be a lock-down defender right away, a guy that can come off the bench and keep even the league's best guards honest. It'll put Doc Rivers' mind at ease, having an able-bodied youngster than can spell Rajon Rondo, keeping the star guard's legs fresh while not losing a step on the defensive end.
Bradley is a lot of things. The league's rookies polled also tabbed the new Celtic among the most athletic, the best playmakers and the best shooters in his incoming class. But in Boston, defense will be his trademark.
The Celtics were already a championship-caliber team before Avery Bradley arrived. But with Bradley on board, they're one more baby step closer to bringing a banner back to Boston. Defense can still win championships, and Bradley can sure play defense. The whole league knows it.