BOSTON (CBS) — The challenges were stacked high for Avery Bradley entering this season.
Coming off a disappointing 2012-13 campaign that showed him as more of an offensive liability than an asset, Boston’s young shooting guard faced a daunting new start in green this year.
Doc Rivers, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett — the constants throughout his brief career as a Celtic — were gone. His backcourt mate Rajon Rondo would also be absent indefinitely from the floor as he continued to recover from his ACL tear.
After Danny Ainge and Bradley’s representatives failed to reach an extension in late October, a contract year awaited Bradley as well. With the superstars gone and facing the pressures of his impending free agency, Bradley’s play was under the microscope more than ever during the new season.
An 0-4 start for the Celtics, with Bradley struggling and playing out of position at point guard, signaled trouble early in the season. It was more of the same Bradley we saw last year, the guy that turned the ball over too much and wasn’t confident in his shot.
Luckily, Brad Stevens made the wise decision to adjust on the fly, and he inserted Jordan Crawford into the starting lineup as point guard before Game 5, which shifted Bradley to his natural shooting guard role.
This simple change has led to the rebirth of Bradley’s offensive game over the past few weeks.
“He’s comfortable in his role,” Brad Stevens explained of Bradley now. “He clearly understands what he’s supposed to do, where he’s supposed to be, how he can best pick his spots.”
Bradley is more than comfortable now. He has put together a phenomenal offensive month of December, as he’s grown used to playing alongside Crawford, and has posted 16.3 points per game to lead all Celtics scorers. That’s an impressive three-point jump over his November average, and a monster uptick of his 9.2 ppg average from last season.
Not only is Bradley scoring more now, but he’s doing it more efficiently than ever. The 23-year-old shot 50.7 percent from the field in December while taking more shots per game. He was also red-hot from beyond the arc, making 53.8 percent of his 3-point attempts.
Despite the impressive strides in his performance, Bradley has remained modest about his play.
“I’ve just been fortunate enough to be able to make shots, and just playing hard on both ends of the floor,” he said. “I feel like that’s what gets my offense going — playing hard on defense.”
Stevens sees Bradley’s progression as only the beginning in his development.
“I do think he’ll grow and get better and that will be something that will happen now and over time,” Stevens said. “I think he’ll get incrementally better as we move throughout the season.”
Bradley’s gains have not just come on the offensive end. While already regarded as one of the best perimeter defenders in the game, Bradley has strived to improve other aspects of his play.
For example, despite his small stature at 6-foot-3, Bradley has been one of Boston’s best rebounders in the past month, crashing the glass to help the Celtics’ undersized frontline. The shooting guard has piled up 5.4 rebounds per game in December, which more than doubles his average per game (2.2) from last season. Stevens has preached a gang rebounding mentality, something that Bradley has taken to heart.
“That’s something that our coaches tell us, if the big men box out, the guards can come in and get the rebounds, and that’s what they’ve been doing. It’s been big for our whole team,” Bradley said.
Bradley has also put it on himself to step up his team defense as well, to match his strength as an individual defender.
“I was a better individual player last year on the defensive end,” he said. “This year I challenged myself to be a better team defender, and I feel like I’m doing a pretty good job.”
Altogether, Bradley’s recent play has turned him from being a one-dimensional player to one of the most well-rounded guards in the league.
As one of the potential blocks for Ainge and this Celtics team moving forward, the future is bright for Bradley in green, as long as he can continue to progress at this rate.