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Irish Coffee: Avery Bradley’s stock rising

02.01.11 at 11:34 am ET
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Avery Bradley‘s move to Maine has been the best thing for both him and the Celtics.

The C’s first-round selection in the 2010 NBA draft, Bradley took his talents to Portland when the team sent him to the NBA Development League, and he’s beginning to prove himself as one of the (minor) league’s best.

The 20-year-old is flourishing in the NBADL, gaining valuable experience. But the value of his performance might be even greater for the Celtics. Because there’s no urgency to force a young kid into the rotation, the C’s — if necessary — can either call on a kid who two years ago was ranked higher than John Wall as a high school player or shop him with all the leverage in a trade discussion.

Either way, it’s a win-win — another great pick by president of basketball operations Danny Ainge. Bradley is a valuable member of this Celtics team, even if he’s not playing for them. Look at his averages while playing just 30 minutes a night in seven games (4 starts) for the Maine Red Claws:

  • Points: 15.3
  • Assists: 5.0
  • Rebounds: 3.9
  • Steals: 0.4
  • Blocks: 0.4
  • Turnovers: 4.3
  • FG percentage: 39.8
  • 3-point FG percentage: 36.4
  • FT percentage: 83.3

Sure, his turnovers and field-goal percentage could use some improvement, but his offensive production has been better than expected, considering his defensive ability has always been his greatest strength. Here’s how ESPNU described his game when they ranked him as the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2009:

Bradley has steadily risen up in the ranks of the Top 100 players, mainly because of his defensive prowess. In a day and age where offense is the focus for many of the elite players, it is refreshing to see a player take pride in dominating the defensive side of the ball. He uses his superior length, quickness and intelligence to harass the opponent into submission. In most games, if a perimeter player gets hot, they assign “the cooler” to him and put the player in shut down mode. Defense is only a part of his skill set, he is a threat to go highlight reel any time he has the ball on the break; he made some great plays in transition finishing with acrobatic moves to the basket that brought out the “oooh’s” from the crowds. He needs to work on his 3pt shooting consistency as opponents will concede the jumper and give space to defend the drive.

He’s shooting 36.4 percent from NBA 3-point range in his short time with the Red Claws — pretty effective for a guy who shot 38.3 percent from beyond the arc as a high school senior and 37.5 percent as a college freshman at the University of Texas.

During his tenure with the Longhorns, Bradley’s stock fell low enough for the Celtics to grab him at No. 19 overall. His averages in those two years prior to entering the NBA certainly illustrate why his value slipped:

  • High school senior: 19.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 2.9 steals, 54.1 FG%, 38.3 3-PT FG%, 76.1 FT%
  • College freshman: 11.6 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.3 steals, 43.2 FG%, 37.5 3-PT FG%, 54.5 FT%

In the NBADL — a step higher than the Big 12 in college and a step lower than the NBA — Bradley’s points, rebounds, assists, field-goal percentage and free-throw percentage have all improved considerably since his sub-par freshman season at Texas.

All the while, he’s played what Red Claws coach Austin Ainge (Danny’s 27-year-old son) has described as NBA-ready defense. And he’s getting better. Take a look at his last two games against a pair of the NBADL’s best:

  • Red Claws 109, Tulsa 66ers 106: 39 minutes, 14 points, 9 steals, 7 assists, 4 rebounds
  • Erie BayHawks 113, Red Claws 109: 37 minutes, 24 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds, 1 steal

The 66ers own the league’s best record and had won 14 straight entering the game, while the BayHawks rank second in the Eastern Conference. Bradley’s nine steals against Tulsa tied the NBADL single-game record, while his 24 points and eight assists against Erie are his highest output in each category since joining the team.

The Portland Press Herald has done a commendable job following the team, and here’s what Bradley and Austin Ainge have had to say over the last two games:

  • Ainge on Bradley’s steals record: “That’s not something we’ve taught him. He has been that good. And he’s going to get better. He’s an elite defender, even at the NBA level. And his offense will continue to improve as he gets experience.”
  • Bradley on his 24-point, eight-assist night: “I just had to pick my spots. At the beginning, I had to make sure everyone got involved in the game. At a certain point in the game I just got opportunities where I could score and I capitalized on them.”

Bradley said all the right things off the court when he averaged 4.7 minutes a night in Boston, and now he’s doing all the right things on the court in Maine. Both of those attributes should serve the Celtics well moving forward.

BAND OF CELTICS BROTHERS

Chemistry doesn’t come easy in the NBA. Just ask Tony Allen and O.J. Mayo. Heck, even Delonte West and Von Wafer can attest to that.

But the Celtics have emerged from that West/Wafer altercation with flying colors. Just ask Kevin Garnett. NBA.com’s David Aldridge did, and Garnett provided what might be my favorite quote of the year that didn’t involve Pooh Jeter:

“We actually give two cents about each other, which is a rarity. We actually deal with each other off the court, which is a big plus. And I’m not just saying that just to make y’all columns look like whatever it is. This is true life. And we enjoy each other. We’re like brothers. We bitch, we complain, we argue, we debate, we laugh. Know what I mean? We’re like brothers. Real life.”

Aldridge spoke to Paul Pierce about the Celtics’ regular-season improvement from last season:

“We learned our lesson last year. As a group, we looked ahead, I thought. That was the reason for our [regular-season] record. And then when the playoffs came, we were able to turn it on. But fortunately, we’re trying to play for something, for home court. Maybe if we had home court last year, who knows what happens in Game 7? So we’re definitely not looking ahead this year, because it could come down to another Game 7. And hopefully we can have it on our home court.”

And he got Rajon Rondo to provide some insight into how he runs the offense:

“Sometimes we get jump-shot happy. Obviously, if Ray [Allen]’s shooting and Paul’s shooting, we’re pretty satisfied with it. But at the same time, it’s me just keeping a compass of knowing when to come inside. If we shoot jump shot after jump shot, we’ve got to ge the ball inside to Diesel [Shaquille O’Neal].”

PIERCE CHALLENGES ALLEN TO 3-POINT CONTEST

By way of his Twitter account, Pierce challenged Allen to a personal 3-point shooting contest during the NBA’s All-Star festivities: “I think me and Ray Allen need to have a shootout in this year’s 3-point contest. What y’all think? Come on NBA, make it happen.”

Pierce is the NBA’s reigning 3-Point Shootout champion, while Allen won the event in 2001 as a member of the Bucks. In their five combined appearances in the Shootout, the only time Pierce and Allen overlapped was in 2002. Neither reached the finals, but Allen defeated Pierce, 14-8.

Both guys are shooting their career high in 3-point percentage, as Allen (45.4 percent) and Pierce (42.3 percent) rank fifth and 17th in the NBA this season, respectively.

Speaking of Pierce and Allen, both ESPN.com’s Bill Simmons and Basketball Prospectus made great cases in the past couple days for both guys having a window for success longer than just next season.

LAKERS PANICKING?

And speaking of Simmons, he reveled in the ridiculous Lakers discussions on Los Angeles sports talk radio yesterday, which included trading Andrew Bynum for Carmelo Anthony (but not Chris Paul?) and starting Lamar Odom at point guard.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times caught up with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak, and he admitted that his team could indeed be interested in a trade:

“Yes … I may have to look into a trade, but I’m not saying we have” talked to other teams yet. “We have not been playing up to our level and I don’t know why. Maybe it’s complacency. I’m not sure.”

“We do have a lot of talent and when we added [Matt] Barnes and [Steve] Blake, I thought that we had a better team. But right now we’re not playing good basketball. I think we should be playing better.”

If you’re a Celtics fan, you’ve really got to be enjoying the aftermath of their victory against the Lakers.

CELTICS HIDE, ROCKETS SEEK?

In that aftermath, Celtics coach Doc Rivers denied any attempt to recreate the motivational tool he used last season when the team hid $2,500 last season in the ceiling of the visitors’ locker room at the Staples Center in hopes of retrieving it during the NBA Finals.

But that’s not going to stop the Rockets from looking, as they visit the Lakers on Tuesday night. If the Celtics left anything behind, Luis Scola told the Houston Chronicle it won’t be there for long:

“I’m going to be the one. I’ll find it. If there’s money in there, I’m going to get it.”

The reason the Celtics may not have left a $2,500 treasure might have less to do with Scola finding it and more to do with the fact the Lakers might not reach the 2011 NBA finals. As L.A. Times columnist Mark Heisler pointed out while slotting the Celtics into the No. 1 spot in his Power Rankings, even if the Spurs go 22-13 down the stretch, the Lakers would need to finish 30-5 to capture the No. 1 seed.

(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’€™s Irish Coffee or a future mailbag? Send an e-mail tobrohrbach@weei.com or a Twitter message to @brohrbach.)

Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, Paul Pierce
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