Essay: Getting Creative With Avery Bradley
Isn’t this nice? Just as the Celtics are left for dead—with Danny Ainge at his desk, knuckles cracked, frantically placing calls all over the country with his heart set on finding a most affordable casket for his beloved Big 3—a mysterious, oft-forgotten adolescent with the borne name Avery Antonio Bradley Jr., pounds an adrenaline-filled syringe deep in their chest, bringing them back to consciousness, and, quite possibly, relevance as a basketball team.
With the game-changing perimeter defender Ainge promised us these last 16 months finally beginning to bloom (we always knew he could act, but ball? Things were beginning to look bleak), all of a sudden the Celtics have a pool full of options. It appears one of them is Doc changing the second unit’s offense to make Bradley more comfortable, but what I suggest is a more radical, pseudo-Wally Pipp situation. Are we discussing the permanent replacement of everyone’s favorite mercurial muskrat, Rajon Rondo? Dear LORD no. What I propose is a bit more creative, and a roster move that could inject exuberance into Boston’s aching extremities. What if the Celtics coupled Rondo with Bradley at the opening tip? What if Ray Allen came off the bench—playing about 5 fewer minutes per game—and became a focal point on the Celtics’ offensively hindered second unit? There are so many obvious negative issues with this scenario, such as a major spacing restriction for Rondo and Pierce’s driving lanes, but let’s forget about those and talk about the big picture positives for a moment.
Right now the NBA is going through a major shift in style. Traditional half court sets will always hold dominant influence on how the game of basketball is played, forever and ever more. But the growing importance of deploying a jazzy transition game, based on speed and unhinged fearlessness can’t be ignored. When Miami defeated Cleveland earlier this week, Erik Spoelstra went with a two point guard lineup of Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole to close out the last five minutes of a seriously tight game; the Denver Nuggets have been dominating teams all year with the fastball/change-up diversity of Ty Lawson and Andre Miller; Minnesota is beginning to start Ricky Rubio beside journeyman point guard Luke Ridnour (by drowning his roster with point guards, maybe David Khan was a futuristic visionary? On second thought, never mind); and the Houston Rockets, a team devoid of depth when it comes to possession of size, are beginning to blitz teams with a Kyle Lowry, Goran Dragic combination. The proof, as they say, is certainly in the pudding. Speed is SO in.
Having both Rondo and Bradley working off one another, attacking the paint, creating shots for everyone else, and wreaking youthful havoc on opposing defenses, could make things nightmarish. Rondo’s jumper is oft maligned, but there’s no denying its improvement. He’s shooting 41% on shots between 10 and 23 feet from the rim so far this season. Bradley’s shot is nowhere NEAR as scary as Ray’s, but where it stands right now is as an unfinished, unknown entity (a nice way of saying Bradley’s shooting 10% from beyond the arc.) The point being made here is that Bradley wouldn’t attempt to duplicate what Ray does; Doc would wrap the game plan more around his sophomore’s strengths, using back cuts, creation from penetration, and maybe even a little secondary fast break action.
All of a sudden, the Celtics’ offense, which is founded on misdirection, spacing, unselfishness, and not being very good, is able to start each game with a simple philosophy: run other opposing teams off the court. When the 4th quarter arrives and the games get close, Ray Allen is your obvious answer at the two, but starting Bradley and Rondo together and setting them loose in the open court would be a beautiful thing to watch, and a fantastic tone setter.
Now, let’s talk defense; the real reason this experiment needs to happen. Rondo is already one of the better defensive point guards in the league, if not one of the top two. (His signature poke and go combines defense with a layup, and it gives an idle teammate the easiest assist he’ll ever see.) Rondo’s shown an ability to guard the league’s best ball-handlers with freakish athleticism and an unparalleled IQ, and nobody enjoys playing against him.
As for Bradley, well, now that referees know what he’s doing is for serious, the dog’s leash has been lengthened; the results have been brilliant. Much has been made of his full court pressure, and there’s really no discounting that as what he’s most known for right now, but in the half court he’s just as ferocious, holding the opposition to 27% in isolation situations. Bradley moves his feet with the ball-handler as if they’re both synchronized back up dancers practicing a routine.
Placing him in the starting lineup not only surrounds Bradley with the type of unselfish players talented enough to set even the messiest tables—helping Boston right now—but it raises his status around the league. Boston would be throwing a smoke signal to other GMs and coaches about how confident they are in the 21-year-old’s skills to compete when spotlights are on and when expectations remain great. Depending on how high he soars, Bradley could team up with Rondo for the next 4-5 years to form the most emotionally devastating backcourt in basketball, or he could become Danny Ainge’s next Al Jefferson—the centerpiece in a blockbuster deal. Either way, the Celtics have options galore, and for once they aren’t centered around a proud group of veterans who’s hopes of winning a second championship together are finally beginning to crumble.