BOSTON (CBS) – Avery Bradley enters his seventh pro season as one of the best bargains in the NBA. The reigning first-team All-NBA defender and Boston’s second-leading scorer will earn just $8 million dollars in the third season of a four-year deal signed in the summer of 2012. That pact still stands as one of the best contracts Danny Ainge has signed in his tenure as team president.
As Ainge attempts to turn the Celtics into a title contender over the next two seasons, a player of Bradley’s talent is the least of Ainge’s worries. Still, Bradley has started the first two games of his 2016 preseason looking like a changed player. The 6-foot-2 guard has developed into a reliable shooter over the past couple seasons but has never been counted on to be much of a shot creator for others.
Things have started to change on that front during this past week however. Bradley dished out 11 assists during limited minutes in his first two games, including one six-assist effort, one shy of his career regular season high. The development has become clear as Bradley has looked to pass just as much as shoot when he comes off of pick-and-rolls and pin-down screens.
The difference has provided a boost to Boston’s offensive production for the starting five almost immediately. With a pair of capable big man passers in Al Horford and Amir Johnson in the fold, along with an All-Star point guard in Isaiah Thomas, defending Brad Stevens’ playbook has been a stiff challenge for opposing defenses.
Knowing this, Bradley put it on himself to add this new element to his game this offseason.
“I know it’s something that I needed to improve in order to take my game to the next level,” Bradley said at practice Friday. “I needed to add that to my game, trying to get my teammates involved and not just being a lockdown defender and shotmaker off of pindowns. I wanted to add something else to my game. And that’s something that I’m challenging myself every single game, every single practice to get my teammates involved.
“I know I have a lot of opportunities to do it, and I’m starting to look at the game and see the game different. I’m starting to understand where my spots are and where I can get guys shots, how guys play. And I think it’s going to be good for our team this year.”
Bradley’s backcourt mate has already noticed the change and believes it’ll make the 25-year-old guard a more dangerous player.
“He’s growing,” Thomas explained. “I mean, he’s just become a more complete player. He’s just making the right play. It is slowing down for him it seems like. When he comes off pick-and-rolls he’s not going so fast. He’s slowing down and really looking for all his options. He’s making the right play and you can tell he’s improved in a lot of areas. Not just scoring or defense, which he’s great at, but making plays for others.”
Stevens also credited Bradley for taking it upon himself to enhance his offensive abilities.
“I think that’s experience, hard work,” Stevens said of Bradley’s improved vision. “I think it’s deliberate skill work, it’s all those types of things. He’s also able to make the right play at the right time with, often times, a guy either closing out or sprinting behind him or whatever the case may be. He’s just gotten great at reading every situation. But he can continue to improve, he wants to improve. That’s what all of us want all of our guys to do…every day, grow a little bit and get a little better.”
It remains to be seen whether Bradley’s increased assist output will carry over to the regular season, but his enhanced awareness is exactly the type of internal offensive gain the Celtics need to continue to exhibit if they want to pose a challenge against the defending champions this season.
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.