Is Avery Bradley Entering a Make-or-Break Season for Boston Celtics in 2013-14?
For most players, trying to emulate Rajon Rondo's game is a guaranteed disaster.
With the Kentucky product's freakish length (6'9" wingspan) and superhuman court vision (career 8.3 assists against 2.8 turnovers per game), he's put his own All-Star spin on the game of basketball.
But for fourth-year guard Avery Bradley, copying Rondo isn't just a daunting challenge. It's a necessity.
With Rondo sidelined indefinitely while recovering from a torn ACL, Bradley will be forced to pick up his slack.
The shooting guard by trade and point guard by stature (6'2" 180 lbs) isn't an ideal candidate to replace Rondo, but the Boston Celtics are woefully short on other options. Undrafted rookie Phil Pressey is the only other player with a guaranteed contract in Brad Stevens' Rondo-less point guard rotation.
If that pressure to perform wasn't high enough, Bradley's also entering the final season of his rookie deal. ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg reported that Bradley is unlikely to ink a contract extension before next summer.
Make-or-break feels like an understatement for how much this season means to Bradley. It's more of a play-well-or-go-home kind of year with his Celtics' career possibly at stake.
Position of Prominence
Bradley isn't quite getting thrown into the lions' den with this move to the lead-guard spot. Given Rondo's injury history (71 games missed over the last three seasons), Bradley has been forced into spot duty before.
But this time does carry a different tone for him. Without Paul Pierce and Jason Terry at his sides, Bradley won't have the same safety valves around him.
He'll be tasked with initiating Stevens' offense. He'll be the one forced to elevate the effectiveness of his teammates on the floor.
Stevens said he feels Bradley is more than ready for the challenge, via Tom Layman of the Boston Herald:
I don't think there is any doubt that Avery has elite ability in a lot of ways as a point guard. He's an elite defender at the position. He's an elite athlete at the point guard position...I think he's a guy with more confidence, and I think he's excited about the challenge if Rajon is out.
Buying Bradley as a competent floor general requires a certain leap of faith.
He's never averaged more than 2.7 assists or fewer than 1.8 turnovers per 36 minutes. Like Rondo, he's struggled finding range on his shot (37.5 percent outside of 10 feet last season). But unlike his hobbled teammate, Bradley has been equally inept at finishing chances at the rim (49.1 percent in 2012-13).
Now, he did have some factors working against him.
His 2012-13 debut was delayed until January by a pair of offseason shoulder surgeries. He also didn't have the benefit of those extra 15 pounds that Comcast SportsNet's A. Sherrod Blakely reports he's added over the summer, although every basketball player is in tremendous shape at this time of year.
But he'll have his share of challenges to overcome this time around, too.
The talent has been drastically reduced on the roster, particularly with Rondo on the shelf. His defensive responsibility won't diminish one bit—do you really want MarShon Brooks or Jordan Crawford guarding the opposition's best scorer?—even as his offensive burden grows heavier by the day.
Bradley must evolve from from a one-trick pony into a two-way force. Is that metamorphosis even possible?
Magnifying His Meaning
If you're not familiar with Bradley's game by now, then you probably hate defense.
His suffocating efforts have already reached near mythical status. Via Forsberg, no player with at least 475 defensive possessions allowed fewer points per play (0.697) or held opponents to a lower scoring rate (31.8 percent) than Bradley in 2012-13.
He's a ball hawk the entire length of the floor and a surprisingly effective shot eraser.
While he helps the Celtics get stops, though, too often he stops their own possessions at the other end.
He couldn't manage better than an 8.5 player efficiency rating—the league average is 15.0—from either guard position last season, via 82Games.com. His assist percentage (11.3 for his career) has yet to eclipse his turnover percentage (13.9).
But Bradley wasn't always viewed as an offensive liability.
Coming out of high school, he was touted by Rivals.com as the top player of his class—ahead of players like John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Derrick Favors. Rivals' Jerry Meyer lauded Bradley's scoring ability, particularly from the mid-range, while calling him "one of the top shooting guards in the country."
That offensive production never made it to his college campus in Austin, Texas. He managed just 11.6 points on 43.2 percent shooting during his lone season with the Longhorns.
It has shown up in spurts at the NBA level, though. He shot 49.8 percent from the field and 40.7 percent from distance in 2011-12, a season that saw him exploit high-efficiency chances (shots at the rim and from the corner) at every opportunity.
It won't be easy rediscovering that efficiency. Driving lanes will stay crowded until he forces defenses to respect his jump shot. Those corner triples will come few and far between as he'll be initiating sets from the top of the key.
The only thing Bradley can do is work on expanding his game, which is what he tried doing over the summer. "I've just been trying to focus on basketball," he said, via Jessica Camerato of Comcast SportsNet. "I'm just worrying about this upcoming season, just trying to worry about whatever I can do to help this team."
Bradley won't find a shortage of challenges in 2013-14. But does he have what it takes to overcome them?
Destined for Disaster?
As Boston's Oct. 30 season opener draws closer, everything continues to point toward Bradley manning the lead-guard role in Rondo's absence:
Stevens again suggested the starting PG spot is Avery Bradley's to lose.— Jay King (@ByJayKing) October 2, 2013
The idea is definitely intriguing. Bradley's value grows exponentially as a defensive-minded point guard as opposed to an undersized off guard with severe limitations.
But floor generals aren't typically taught; they are born. It's basketball's nature vs. nurture debate, with nature holding a historic sizable edge.
With his assignments piling up and his helpers dwindling, Bradley could be facing a nightmarish season.
Where do you see Avery Bradley's future?
The market for defensive specialists—the label he'll carry until proven otherwise—isn't great. Memphis Grizzlies' stopper Tony Allen—the leading vote-getter among 2012-13 All-Defensive first-team selections—took a four-year, $20 million deal to stay in Memphis this summer.
Bradley can raise his pay grade this season, but right now the year holds more break than make potential. He isn't a natural point guard. The foundation of this plan is already cracking.
Bradley might want to keep that clip on a loop this season. Nothing less than a miracle will be needed to pull this off.
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