The Corner Three

Appreciating Avery Bradley

By CornerThree33
Sep. 25, 2016

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

If you're a Celtics fan like me, you would have spent the summer dreaming of the endless list of star players Danny Ainge has been linked with. Since draft night, the Celtics have been rumored to be in discussions for Jimmy Butler, Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook, DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Love, just to name a few. Every time a rumor gets brought up, whether it be for one of the superstars I just listed or anyone else, the first player every Celtics fan is willing to give up in return is Avery Bradley.

As much as you'd like to deny it, it's true. Us Celtics fans are unwilling to part with any of our prized assets (Jae Crowder, Isaiah Thomas and the Nets' picks come to mind). Whenever a trade target is discussed, without considering who it is, we always make it clear that Crowder, Thomas and the Nets' picks are off the table, no matter how unreasonable we sound (NBA Twitter is so much fun). Because of our unwillingness to part with our most valuable trade chips, we see Avery Bradley as the most obvious trade piece, seeing as the Celtics would need to get rid of something at least semi-valuable in order to acquire a big name. 

He isn't a star, he won't score 20 points per game and doesn't offer any intriguing upside, yet he is still an incredibly effective NBA player that would be more than useful to any franchise. Those ingredients make Avery the ideal player to get traded from this Celtics team. The Celtics are obviously yet to make a deal for a big name player and that's because of the unwillingness to give up any of the key trade chips at Danny Ainge's disposal. I'm absolutely sure if Ainge had a chance to acquire a third All-Star in exchange for Avery, he would've done it in a heartbeat. That's obvious. Bradley isn't a game changer that could lead the Celtics to the promised land like some of the stars the Celtics have been linked to. 

The thing is, even though the Celtics will eventually need to gain another star to complete their meteoric rise, Boston shouldn't be so quick to include Bradley in any old deal. It may sound stubborn, but if the Celtics are to acquire another star, they should try everything in their power to keep Bradley in green. Sure, excluding him as well as Thomas, Crowder and the Nets' picks doesn't leave much else on the table in terms of trade assets and instead of making a deal for a star, you would probably end up alienating the other 29 general managers around the league with low-ball offers, but keeping hold of Avery Bradley is worth it. 

His dull stats don't show it, but Bradley is much more than just a role player, as he is known in most NBA circles. He is much more than that. At least, he is much more than that on the Celtics -- the ultimate greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts team. He plugs gaping holes on this Celtics team on both ends. He is a key cog on both sides of the ball that when taken out, destroys the entire green machine. 

There is no better way to illustrate Bradley's importance to this Celtics team than the Hawks' series last season. After Avery went down in the latter stages of game one, the Celtics struggled all over the court. Not even Brad Stevens could come up with a solution to fill the holes Bradley left. He tried plugging both Marcus Smart and Evan Turner into the role, but neither could replace Bradley's two-way versatility. Smart couldn't fill Bradley's floor spacing shoes and neither could Turner, who also got nowhere near matching Avery's air-depriving defensive prowess.

For a team that struggles with floor spacing even with Bradley, losing him broke the whole system. Meanwhile defensively, losing Bradley meant that Boston's deadly perimeter defense was punctured, which exposed issues with their interior defense. That series showed us just how much Avery Bradley means to this Celtics team. Without him, the team is incomplete both offensively and defensively. 

Offensively speaking, Bradley has sneakily turned into one of the better off-ball contributors in the entire league. He's a limited offensive player, that has used his intellect and work ethic to become effective. Bradley averaged 15 points per game, on 44% shooting from the field last season, a large number for a guy who cannot really create his own offense. A majority of his buckets come from catch-and-shoot opportunities, while the rest come from his nifty off-ball cutting and his work in transition. 

For Avery to become who he is offensively though, he has put in countless hours of training. When he first entered the league, Bradley was an ultra raw point guard, with limited ball skills that couldn't do much away from the ball. To put it bluntly, he couldn't shoot and was a woeful offensive player. But unlike most players, Bradley didn't just accept this. He worked his ass off to the point where last season he was the second leading scorer on a 48 win team. He has evolved from a ball-dominant point guard into an off-ball maestro. He has become a master at running off pin-downs and spotting up without any hesitation, for a smooth jumper. 

That jumper has been in development for a while now. He has worked so damn hard on it that Bradley made 147 threes last season, more than recognized snipers like Khris Middleton, Danny Green, Gordon Hayward and Dirk Nowitzki. That number of 147 is also 6 more than Bradley made in his first four seasons combined. If that isn't a testament to Bradley's work ethic, I don't know what is. Bradley has gotten so good shooting the ball now that he ranked in the 78th percentile on spot-up shooting plays, according to NBA.com.

While on offense, his improvement has raised a few eyebrows, it is his defense that gets everyone talking. Unfortunately, some have painted the picture of the All-Defensive first teamer him being overrated. This is largely due to his weirdly poor defensive stats. Tracking stats say that he forces his opponent to shoot 2.3% below their average, a mark that doesn't match other elite defensive players. He owns a bad defensive rating of 106, has a negative defensive box plus-minus and has a defensive real plus-minus of -1.24. All of those stats would lead you to the conclusion that at best, Bradley is a below average defensive player. 

Even though I adore advanced stats and use them frequently throughout my articles, this is an example where you have to realize there is a limit to what statistics can tell you about the game of basketball. Because in Avery Bradley's case, the eye test would tell anyone a completely different story of Bradley's defensive abilities.

Bradley is a uniquely great defensive player. At 6'2'' and weighing in at just 180 lbs, Avery doesn't exactly look like an intimidating force. But with a 6'7'' wingspan, a relentless attitude that doesn't quit and cat-like instincts, he is certainly one of the better defensive players in the entire association. Bradley limits space better than any other player in the league. I don't think there is another player in NBA history that is able able to stay chest-to-chest with every guy he guards for the full 94 for 48 minutes a night. He doesn't allow an inch of space for his opponent and just as the guy he's guarding tries to create that necessary space, Avery always manages to stick his hand in the cookie jar at just the right time, to knock the ball free with one clean, precise and aggressive swipe. 

When he's guarding away from the ball, he's might be even better than when he's on-ball. Bradley is an extremely smart player on that side of the ball, he always timing his rotations perfectly, anticipating passes with ease, switching at just the right moment every time and doing everything else in between. If you don't believe me, just watch these two videos by Coach Mike on YouTube:

What you should've gathered by now is that Avery Bradley is a really damn good player, that has been critical to the Celtics' success over the past couple of years. Sure we all want another superstar for the Celtics. One more All-Star on this roster could give the Celtics all the firepower they need to beat the Cavs. But Avery Bradley is incredibly important to this Celtics squad. As fans, we need to stop taking him for granted and realize how important he is. Appreciate how vital Avery is and hope like hell that Danny Ainge does too. 

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