Avery Bradley’s new offensive role model: Andre Miller
|02.02.12 at 12:08 am ET|
Avery Bradley scored his first points against Toronto on an awkward-looking pull-up jumper from just outside the lane. That is not his game. Bradley made four more shots, missing just once, and all of his shots were at the rim. That is his game and the fact the Bradley has something that can be called an identifiable offensive game is one of the most intriguing developments of this season for the Celtics.
“It’s something you can always hang your hat on,” said Ray Allen, who knows a thing or two about offense. “Coming into the game you know where you’re going to score, what you’re working on before the game. Knowing that when the game starts when we run certain plays this is where the ball may come in certain situations, so he’s always ready. His mind is ready and his body is ready.”
Bradley’s jump shot is shaky. He’s made just 30 percent of his jump shots beyond 16 feet this season. Both Doc Rivers and team president Danny Ainge believe that Bradley’s outside shot will come around when he gets more confidence and experience. But while that develops, they have found something that gives Bradley the chance to be a productive offense player so they can utilize his vast defensive potential as an on-the-ball defender.
Basically, they want him to be Andre Miller.
“I told Avery he has to be Andre Miller, who I think is the best cutter without the ball in the league,” Rivers said. “No one’s guarding him and he keeps scoring 15, 16 points a game, and teams keep doing what they do and he backcuts. Instead of looking at the ball, just look at your man. Right when he turns his head, cut behind him. He’ll never know you’re gone.”
Bradley has taken those instructions to heart.
“Cuts not only get me open, they get my teammates open,” he said. “I’m just getting better at cutting every single game. [Rajon] Rondo’s a great cutter and I want to be a good cutter just like him.”
That has been very encouraging for Rivers. “It’s really nice when you see a young player learn,” the coach said. “He’s not going to score that much off the dribble right now – he will – it’s more his cuts that’s getting him shots.”
The Celtics ran a variation on this theme when teams would zone Rondo. If they refused to guard him, they simply placed him near the basket where teams have to account for him, and Bradley has the strength and athleticism to score inside once he does get the ball.
“In the Cleveland game, Kyrie Irving was running around zoning – like they did on Rondo,” Rivers said. “If you keep cutting under the basket, you’re going to have a layup drill. The whole key is our guys have to pass it to him and they’ve done that. They’ve done it two games in a row. That’s good for Avery.”
He’s also getting smarter. Early in the season, Bradley’s primary move to the basket consisted of putting his head down and driving hard to the basket. Sometimes he would get a foul call. More often, he would get his shot blocked or altered. Now he’s starting to see the openings and seams in the defense.
“That just comes with playing,” Bradley said. “Even shot-wise, you’ve got to pick your spots. I had to learn how to not get the ball blocked and that just comes with playing.”
Since Rondo has been out of the lineup with a sprained wrist, the Celtics have won six of the eight games and outside of a dreadful loss to Phoenix where they scored just 71 points, the offense has been good enough to win every game.
That’s not to say that the Celtics are a better team without their All-Star guard. Far from it. They have been winning games primarily because Paul Pierce is back to playing like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett‘s defense has also returned to previous levels. Rivers has simplified the offense, running it through Pierce on high-screen pick and pops or off the elbows with the big men. It’s working, but only to a point.
“You can still win games,” Rivers said of life without Rondo. “I thought we knew that anyway. You also learn that it’s very difficult down the stretch of close games. Without him you’re pretty basic offensively and you’re very easy to guard down the stretch of games and I think that’s hurt us.”
So yes, in case you were wondering, when Rondo returns he will resume his 36 minutes a night at the point. Also, when Keyon Dooling returns from a hip pointer he will also be in the mix at the off-guard position. So where does that leave Bradley and rookie E’Twaun Moore? Vying for backup point guard duties, most likely.
But those are two options Rivers wasn’t sure he had when the season started and if this lockout year has taught us anything, it’s that every player on the roster will have a chance to play and contribute at some point.
The key for Bradley will be trying to channel his game into shorter bursts so that he still has an impact, even if it’s only for 10-12 minutes a night, and he seems ready for the challenge.
“When the second unit comes in, the second unit’s supposed to be the unit that plays even harder,” Bradley said. “That’s what we’re going to do when Rondo comes back. We’re going to be a better team because our confidence level is coming up.”