The Boston Celtics drafted Avery Bradley with the 19th pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. Though he was talented and active in his only year at the University of Texas, he was drafted as a project who could learn from the big three, and hopefully one day make some kind of impact.
Boy, is he making an impact.
For two years now, Bradley has been a solid defensive option coming off of Boston's bench. In very limited minutes, he really never displayed much on offense that would lead anyone to call for more time for him.
However, three weeks ago, Boston coach Doc Rivers decided that it was time to make a change in the lineup, and he moved Ray Allen to the bench, making way for Bradley to start. Defensively, Bradley has been the tough and consistent player everyone knew he could be.
The real splash has been on offense.
Bradley has made the move look genius for Doc Rivers, who now has a younger, tougher starting five, and an older, more experienced, more explosive bench. Not only is the team doing well, but the perception of the Celtics as an old, run-down team is changing because of the new-found youth and energy brought by Bradley.
And with his new-found success comes new-found comparisons for Bradley. Celtics fans that were once worried that the end of an era was happening right before their eyes are now thinking that they might be witnessing the birth of a new era. Players like Bradley, Rajon Rondo and Brandon Bass have breathed a little life into the aging Celtics core, and given hope to even the most skeptical of fans.
But how good has Avery Bradley really been? The next few slides will compare his hot streak to some of the career beginnings of past Celtic greats.
In order to compare the start of Avery Bradley's career to the beginnings of other Celtics greats' careers, we must first look at what Bradley has accomplished in his first two seasons in the NBA.
Last season, in his rookie campaign, Bradley only played in 31 games, averaging just over five minutes per game. Hardly a decent sample size to determine Bradley's capabilities. However, as a first-round pick, even though he was a project for the Celtics, it was a pretty inauspicious start for the young man out of Texas.
Statistically, Bradley averaged less than two points per game, and didn't even average one per game in any other statistical category. He shot well under 50 percent from the field, and didn't hit one three pointer.
The only area Bradley seemed to play well was on defense. He didn't have a lot of blocks or steals, but he did manage to go toe-to-toe with whoever he was guarding and play about as tough as a young man can play.
This season started off very similarly. In fact, in 30 games leading up to the All-Star break, Bradley averaged just over four points on 44 percent shooting from the field, and an astonishing eight percent shooting from beyond the three-point line.
And then, something mysterious happened. Bradley became a solid offensive player.
In 30 games since the All-Star Break, Bradley is averaging almost 10 points per game on 52 percent shooting from the floor and a whopping 58 percent from beyond the three-point line. Since stepping in as the starter for Ray Allen, he is shooting approximately 68 percent from three-point range.
It has truly been a sight to behold.
A guy who, for the majority of his young career was being called a one-dimensional role player is now being compared to some of the great players in the history of one of the most storied NBA franchises. Who knows, if he can keep it up to anywhere near his current pace, even if he slows a bit, Bradley has a chance to be truly a special player.
Paul Pierce will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest players to ever wear Celtic green. Though it took the addition of talent around him, it was still Pierce's team that managed to win an NBA title. Through nearly 14 years in the NBA, Pierce has been the model of hard-work and consistency in the league.
But, how were the early years for Pierce and how do they compare to Avery Bradley?
There really is no comparison.
Paul Pierce was an absolute stud from the minute he stepped on to an NBA court. In his rookie year, he averaged 16.5 points and more than six rebounds per game. He was the leader of the Boston franchise right from the start.
The next season, things only got better for Pierce. He averaged 19.4 points, more than five rebounds and three assists per game. He was truly the beacon of hope for a Celtics franchise that was slipping out of respectability.
When it comes to comparing Bradley to Pierce, the only thing Bradley can compete in is defense, and even still, Pierce was always a solid defender. If you're looking for Bradley to be the next Paul Pierce, I would forget it, Bradley has way too far to climb.
The next Celtic great that we can compare Avery Bradley to is Ray Allen, and this time, Bradley has an area of superiority.
That superiority is not on offense.
Ray Allen is one of the most amazing offensive players to ever grace an NBA uniform. Aside from being the most prolific three-point shooter of all time, Allen was also able to carry a team offensively throughout the early parts of his career.
Bradley is still searching for offense, while offense always came naturally to Allen. Things didn't get off to a torrid start for Allen however, as he averaged just about 13 points per game, and only 39 percent shooting from beyond the arc in his rookie season.
But then Allen began to take off. He averaged over 19 points per game in his second season, which makes Bradley's current streak look modest. During his streak of success, Allen took on a bigger role with the offense, and it paid off.
The difference is on defense in this comparison for Bradley. In his entire career, Ray Allen was always known for offense and not for defense. Allen didn't get paid to make steals or block shots. He got paid to put the ball in the hoop, and that's just what he did.
However, since defense is key for Avery Bradley. Bradley has been tough and difficult to manage in every game he's played for two years. His length and quickness make him a difficult assignment for any offensive player to get around.
Offensively, will Avery Bradley ever get to the point of being a Ray Allen? Most definitely no. But with his better skill set, Bradley can be a more dependable player overall.
Another of the great Celtic wingmen of all-time, Dennis Johnson might compare pretty favorably to Avery Bradley through his first couple of years.
Drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics back in the second round of the 1976 draft, Johnson went on to have a long and lengthy NBA career, and was recently inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame.
The m.o. on both Johnson and Bradley as they came out of college was that they were both terrific defensive players. We know what Avery Bradley can do on defense, but Johnson was pretty amazing himself. There have been very few players that have been able to read and jump passing lanes like good old D.J.
Another similarity was that neither player was overly impressive offensively early in their careers.
D.J. scored just over nine points per game in his rookie season, while averaging just over one assist per game. In his second season, things looked up a bit for Johnson, when he nearly doubled his assist numbers and scored nearly 13 points per game.
As a shooter, Johnson was over 50 percent in his rookie year, and then dropped to about 41 percent for his second year.
The things that got Johnson elected to the Hall of Fame will be the same things that make people remember Avery Bradley, if they ever do. Bradley will have to remain a terrific defender, and he will have to be a part of a winning dynasty. If he can do that, Avery Bradley has a very good chance to wind up being compared very favorably to Dennis Johnson.
Well, if we're going to compare a young player to the greatest players in recent Celtics history, we can't leave out the greatest, Larry Bird.
Offensively, this isn't even a discussion. Larry Bird was literally one of the most talented offensive players of all time. He averaged, for an entire season, better numbers than the ridiculous numbers Bradley has put up in his last 10 games, minus the three-point shooting percentage.
Bird entered the league in the 1979-80 season for the Celtics, and immediately made an impact. He averaged over 21 points and 10 rebounds in his rookie season! He became the instant leader of a veteran team, and was the main reason the Celtics were able to make their way back to contention every year.
His second year was a little tougher than his first as far as shooting goes, but Bird was able to increase his rebound numbers and his assist numbers because of the way he let the game come to him.
Defensively, Bird was serviceable. He averaged a decent amount of blocks and steals, but he still lacked the quickness to keep up with some of the faster players. However, having said that, Bird actually played a very similar style of defense as Bradley. Bird, like Bradley, loved to be physical on defense. He would make his opponents feel him and really do his best to get under their skins.
In that regard, young Bird and young Bradley are fairly similar.
In every other category, this just isn't a discussion. Larry Bird is one of the best players to ever touch a basketball. Bradley would have to maintain his current run for about 10 more years in order to be discussed with Larry Legend.