Defense is nice, as far as that goes. Defense gives a player like Avery Bradley a chance to earn some playing time, and it rouses the fans when an energetic, second-year guard pops off the bench to hassle an opposing ballhandler.
It takes offense to stay on the court, though, which was why defensive specialists Bruce Bowen and Shane Battier developed deadly 3-point shooting range. One simple element added to their limited offensive arsenals made them indispensable members of some very good teams in San Antonio, Houston, Memphis and now, for Battier, Miami.
When Bradley knocked down one 3-pointer, then another and still another in the Celtics' win over the Nets on Saturday, it was therefore the next logical step in the development of this potentially game-changing defensive player. Not only did Bradley unveil a 3-point shot, but he also utilized the exact type of 3-point shot Bowen and Battier employed for more than a decade each.
All three of Bradley's treys on Saturday came from the alleys, where the arc narrows to 22 feet from the hoop, down from 23 feet, 9 inches above the free throw line. Those "corner 3s" are the most efficient shots in basketball, besides dunks and layups, due to the combination of the shorter distance and the extra point.
"It comes from my teammates," Bradley said. "[Rajon] Rondo found me, and I knocked down a shot. I have confidence in myself, and my teammates always tell me, don't think twice, just let it go, and that's what I do."
Bradley has yet to illustrate a consistent mid-range jump shot, let alone the ability to shoot from distance. He entered Saturday's game shooting 30 percent, well enough below the league average of 35 percent that defenses did not have to respect him beyond the arc.
But after Saturday's display, Bradley was shooting 55 percent (11 for 20) on corner 3s specifically. His effective field goal percentage, which takes into account that the corner 3 is worth more points than a normal field goal, was 82.5 percent.
Above the break, where the 3-point line is its normal 23-foot, 9-inch distance, Bradley was a mere 1-for-14.
The sample size is small, but this should be encouraging for Bradley, who just a few months ago may have been wondering about his place in the league. A player who can defend and hit the corner 3 stands a good chance of playing a dozen years or so in the NBA and also making more than a decent living. He also is positioned to collect a few championship rings in his career, as contending teams are always looking for a role player of that skill set to contribute to a winning franchise.
In the meantime, the Celtics undoubtedly know Bradley's repertoire better than any scout or beat reporter out there, and they can be expected to call on Bradley's newfound weapon. Bradley's own aspirations probably reach beyond being a mere role player, so this does not mean he will become satisfied with the corner 3 and quit getting better.
This could change things, though. Eventually, age and mileage will rob Bradley of his quickness, so those wily cuts to the basket will not work as often. On teams that do not have three Hall of Famers and another multiple-time All-Star, a one-dimensional defensive specialist will not be able to pitch in the big minutes Bradley has this season. Yet a player who can not only defend but knock down an open triple from the corner will always be in demand by a team — these Celtics included.
Suddenly, things have gotten very intriguing for Mr. Bradley.
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