Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley is having the best year of his career, and he’s no longer just a defensive specialist.
We’ve seen this narrative before. A college player is highly-touted because of his defensive ability and slowly blossoms into a versatile scorer as he spends more time in the league. Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler have made the leap, and Avery Bradley is the next guy to be in that position.
With so many explosive guards playing the league today, it’s crucial for coaches to have guys in the backcourt who can slow down opposing playmakers. Bradley isn’t a physical freak of nature but does have the body to defend either guard spot. He measured 6-3.25 at the Draft Combine in 2010 with a wingspan of 6-7.25.
Bradley, 26, is in his seventh NBA season, and his improvement is more noticeable than any year prior. With a scoring clip of 17.9 points a night, he’s nearly six points higher than his career average and is 2.7 higher than last year.
Not only is he getting more shots, about 15 a game, but he’s also making more, and he’s turned into a deadeye three-point shooter. Overall, Bradley nails 48 percent of his shots, but he’s also shooting 40.6 from three while sticking two a game. As expected, his ability to space the floor creates more driving lanes, and Bradley takes advantage of those more often than not.
He’s not a slasher by any means, but he’s learned to take what the defense gives him, and his combo guard skills make him a reliable ball handler who can take his man off the dribble and finish around the basket. So far this year, according to Synergy, Bradley is shooting 61.8 percent on 152 shots within five feet of the basket — that’s a very respectable number, 13th amongst all guards, and is higher than Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Zach LaVine and Damian Lillard.
Now that Bradley’s shown he can take his man off the dribble and shoot the three, he becomes way harder to guard. But, those aren’t why he’s having his best offensive season.
There are a few players in the league who have mastered the mid-range game. DeMar DeRozan is most prominent one; C.J. McCollum and Klay Thompson can be thrown in there as well. Now, Bradley has to get into that conversation. It’s not the percentage that makes him a threat because he shoots just 44 percent from that zone, but it’s the improvement from last year.
For 2015-16, Bradley shot just 38.5 percent on mid-range shots. That same season, he shot 36.9 percent on shots from ten to 19 feet; it’s up to 47.8 percent this year.
Now, he’s going to his pullup jumper more and more, and taking one or two dribbles as he comes off of a screen is his go-to shot.
It doesn’t matter whether the defender goes over or under. On the first play, the big, Josh McRoberts in this case, sags off to prevent the layup and Bradley cans the open jumper. The second play, Tyler Johnson covers it differently and goes under the screen, but Bradley gets nice elevation on his shot, and he’s able to shoot over the top of the taller Johnson.
Although Isaiah Thomas is one who gets all of the attention, Bradley is forcing coaches to gameplan for him. If the Celtics can figure themselves out by the end of the year, we’ll have yet another dominating backcourt come the postseason.
Data courtesy of Basketball Reference and NBA.com
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