The exact role of Boston Celtics shooting guard Avery Bradley was rather ambiguous heading into this season. 2013-14 would mark his first whole season as a full-time starter, and after a forgettable 2012-13 campaign that saw him average just 9.2 points per game while shooting a paltry 40.2 percent from the field, his stellar play from April of 2012 looked increasingly fortuitous as last season progressed.
His defense remained rock solid, and he was named to the All-Defensive Second Team for the first time in his career, but unfortunately in the playoffs, his offensive impact decreased even further. In the Celtics’ six-game elimination at the hands New York Knicks, Bradley’s scoring plummeted to just 6.7 points per game as he attempted to step in at point guard in the absence of Rajon Rondo.
Luckily for Bradley, head coach Brad Stevens found an able point guard in Jordan Crawford at the beginning of this season, which allowed Bradley to switch back to shooting guard — his natural position. Now, just about halfway through the year, the transition has yielded remarkable results.
Bradley has become a lethal perimeter threat, a description that would have seemed absurd less than eight months ago. He has certainly rediscovered his niche, and has sparked the Celtics’ offense through several opening quarters. More importantly, he has shown something that has been a rarity for any Celtic this season: consistency.
The consistency isn’t just on the offensive end. Although it hasn’t been as flashy as in years past, Bradley’s defense has been as deadly as ever this season. He may not necessarily be full-court pressing opposing guards anymore, but that is mostly due to Stevens’ emphasis on team defense and working as a unit, a concept Bradley has bought into 100 percent.
He is still playing the passing lanes with quick hands, as demonstrated by his 1.1 steals per game, and is locking down some of the league’s best guards on a nightly basis.
Offensively, Bradley has left little desired. He is averaging 14.6 points per game while knocking down 45.5 percent of his looks. His stability on offense has been key for the Celtics, even in their losing efforts. Although the Celtics have now dropped nine straight games, Bradley has been on a complete tear. Throughout eight games in January, he is averaging 17.8 points per game while connecting on 46 percent of his shots from the field.
He is also shooting a touch below 40 percent from the 3-point line. In those eight games played in 2014, he has scored in double-figures in six, and has scored at least 19 points in five of them. He has been a model of constancy for a young team, something infrequently seen in the NBA.
A potential concern is Bradley’s heavy reliance on his jump shot. 80 percent of his field goal attempts come on jumpers, mostly in pick-and-roll situations. Bradley has mastered reading the defense when his big man screens for him, and when the defender goes under, Bradley generally punishes him.
The problem is, with four-fifths of his shots coming outside of the paint, he must continue his high level of confidence in order to keep his level of play up. That opens the door for major shooting slumps, which may become frequent throughout his career if he cannot find a way to find more creative ways to score in the paint.
Bradley is a fantastic athlete, but he is horrendously undersized at shooting guard at 6-foot-2, which often results in missed layups from having his shot blocked or altered. While his size is certainly an obstacle in developing his offensive game, it isn’t insurmountable by any means. Plenty of the NBA’s undersized guards are able to slash effectively by maximizing their free throw opportunities and adding floaters to their respective arsenals.
Bradley’s improvement of his jump shot has shown his willingness to work hard in order to grow into a more complete player, and learning how to create his own offense in the paint is just the next step of that process. Stay tuned, Celtics fans: Bradley may end up being a legitimate offensive force in due time.