The education of Avery Bradley
|12.17.10 at 3:25 pm ET|
Avery Bradley is a good listener. That may not seem that important, but to the veteran Celtics it is a very big deal. They have a tendency to notice things about the young players who join the team. Not so much on the court, although that is obviously an important part of the equation, but about how they conduct themselves.
Do they pay attention during the huddle, even though they have less of a chance of getting in the game than Lucky the mascot? Do they ask questions when they don’t understand something? Do they listen?
It’s telling that such famously hard-to-please veterans as Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have praised Bradley’s approach in his first season for exactly those reasons.
“I really like the kid, actually,” Pierce said after the Celtics beat the Hawks Thursday night. “I see how he works and soaks up so much in practice and you can see him wanting to get better. He’s always asking questions and he’s always in the huddle.”
For Bradley, this is a no-brainer. When the vets talk, he listens and tries to absorb whatever lesson he can.
“Seeing their success, I would feel dumb if I didn’t listen to those guys,” Bradley said. “They know what they’re talking about. When they tell me those things I want to listen so I can become a better player. They’re trying to help me all the time. When I do something wrong, they pull me aside and that just shows that they care about me and want the best for me.”
For the first time in his career, Rajon Rondo is the elder statesman at his position. In past years the Celtics brought in vets like Sam Cassell and Stephon Marbury to play behind him. It’s the endless circle of life in the NBA and now Rondo is the mentor. It’s a role he has taken an interest in with Bradley, often staying after practice to watch carefully as he plays in 2-on-2 games with fellow rookie Luke Harangody, Von Wafer and assistant coach Ty Lue.
Those games happen after every practice and it’s a way for them to stay active. Bradley, in particular, seems to use those runs as a way to test out in-game situations. Rondo will usually watch intently from the sidelines and then offer his wisdom in private.
“He’s a great listener,” Rondo said back in November. “That might not sound like much, but that’s big for a young guy to come in. He’s very humble. He works extremely hard. He’s going to be a great player in this league someday when he gets his opportunity. I always tell him to stay ready.”
With Rondo out for a few weeks, his opportunity is coming sooner than anyone imagined, and truthfully a little sooner than Doc Rivers had envisioned. But with only 10 healthy bodies, opportunity is here.
“You don’t try to put too much in his head,” Rondo said. “You just try to let him learn for himself, but he can always ask me or Nate [Robinson] or coach Rivers. So he has some good guys in front of him who are willing to teach him the game.”
Those lessons come the hard way in the NBA. Take Thursday night’s game when Hawks guard Jeff Teague went off on Bradley. Bradley had barely checked in when Teague stripped him and soared in for a dunk.
“You have to have a short memory,” Bradley said. “People make mistakes, you’re going to make mistakes, especially at this level. You got to go to the next play.”
Things didn’t get much better for Bradley as Teague continued to dominate him. But late in the first quarter, Bradley dove into a scrum and came up with a loose ball leading to points for the Celtics on the other end. It wasn’t much, but it was something positive for Bradley to take into the next game and validation that he wasn’t going to back down.
“You can talk all the trash to him in practice and when you look up he’s staring you right in the eyes and he’s going nowhere,” Rivers said a few weeks ago. “I think our veterans really appreciate that in him.”
Even with all the injuries, nothing is guaranteed for Bradley. The Celtics have options, not necessarily ideal options but options nonetheless. Marquis Daniels has done spot duty as a backup point guard and Pierce and Ray Allen are more than capable of bringing the ball up the court and initiating the offense. So, the onus is on Bradley to take advantage of this opportunity.
In the end, everyone agrees that he has a bright future. He is a tenacious on-the-ball defender who is not afraid to get up on his man and force the action. “He’s very physical,” Rondo said. “He gets through the picks, he gets up into you, he turns you, makes you dribble with your back to the basket.”
His offensive game is still developing and while his size — 6-foot-2, 180 pounds — says point guard, he may be better suited playing off the ball where he can work his mid-range game. The comparison has been made to a smaller version of Tony Allen, without the turnovers, and if he reaches that point this season the Celtics would be thrilled.
But all of that is in front of him. He missed valuable time this summer after undergoing ankle surgery, which kept him out of the Orlando summer league and the majority of training camp. Once the season began, he rolled over Pierce’s foot in practice, which caused him to miss another week.
The learning curve will be steep, but the best thing Avery Bradley has going for him is that he’s willing to learn.