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LeBron James may be the league MVP and his team may be in the middle of a dominating postseason run, but in typical Boston fashion let’s gloat about one of our guys. The subject of conversation: Avery Bradley.
The Celtics guard was recently voted to the NBA’s second all-defensive team after receiving ten first team votes and five second team votes. This tally gave Bradley more total voting points (two points per first place vote, one per second) than both Tyson Chandler and Joakim Noah, the centers on the first team. Going into an offseason filled with questions, Bradley and his defensive tenacity provide a sense of stability for the C’s.
Looking a little further down the line, Bradley will be a restricted free agent following the 2013-2014 campaign. So, barring an injury, expect next season’s Bradley to show just how essential an asset he can be to a team and, hopefully, earn a long term deal with the Celtics.
To put Bradley’s abilities into perspective, at 22, he is the youngest member of either all-defensive team this year. Plus, he received the honor after playing (and starting) in just 50 games. Mainstays on the league’s top defenders list like Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard both played 75+ games and ended with defensive stats on par with career averages. Regardless, the two had ten fewer voting points than Bradley combined and were absent from first and second team alike.
In comparison to last season, Bradley played fourteen fewer games in 2012-2013, recording seven more minutes per game and twenty-one more total steals. So, while vets like Kobe and Howard continue to produce on the defensive end, it appears that the coaches voted for Bradley based on the shear prowess and impact he brings to that side of the ball. There is no reason to believe Bradley’s defensive production will fall off soon, especially if he continues to look to “shut everybody down,” every time he takes the floor.
In terms of on-court synergy, Bradley is like the security blanket Tony Allen provided for the 2008 championship team: a consistent defensive stopper that reduces chances of a scorer/star (Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen in the past) getting in foul trouble. That Celtics team, and all teams since, were based on defense, and to quote Kevin Garnett, “grit and balls”.
Bradley is synonymous with this style of play, as exemplified by his performance in the Game 6 comeback against the Knicks. Despite the eventual result of the game, a previously struggling Bradley served as a catalyst to continue closing the once near-thirty point deficit. It would appear that hanging out with Pierce and KG for three years has rubbed off on Bradley a little bit.
The biggest criticism of Bradley is his offensive game, which gains more attention on a regular basis than does his defense. He is seen as limited and inconsistent and Doc Rivers has often benched him in crunch time. However, his in-your-face on-ball defense leads to takeaways, fast breaks, and high percentage shots for himself and teammates.
The loss of Rondo this season forced Bradley to play out of position at times as the team’s primary ball handler. Bradley is not a true point guard and excels when moving without the ball. Bradley has shown the ability to catch-and-shoot from the corner off of a kick-out and is adept at sharp cuts to the paint for easy scores. When the Celtics get healthy or choose to rebuild Bradley should be able to return to his natural offensive role as an off-ball guard.
The assumed formula for success in today’s NBA is combining multiple superstars in hope that they will gel together. Still, without sufficient support from guys like Bradley, a team will never be complete. He not only puts relentless pressure on opposing teams but also relieves pressure for his teammates with his honey badger-esque play.
The quality of a team can expose and outperform star power and athleticism- Exhibit A: the current playoff runs of the Memphis Grizzlies and Indiana Pacers. The Celtics have enough to rebuild without out blowing it up and, with Bradley as part of a young nucleus, are at least one piece closer to Banner 18.