Just one week after the Celtics’ crushing game 7 loss to the Lakers in the 2010 NBA Finals, they drafted Avery Bradley with the 19th overall pick in the draft. At 19 years old, the Texas Longhorn joined a C’s team that was in the midst of their recent Big 3 Era and was in a rush to grab one more title before Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen reached their expiration dates.
His rookie season was 2010-2011, the year that Danny Ainge invited Shaq to Boston for a cup of coffee and $3 million. Being on a star-studded team fresh off a Finals appearance, it was no surprise that AB struggled to find consistent playing time right off the bat. Offense was hard to come by for the newly 20 year-old as he shot just 34% from the field in 31 games off the bench. But in the one game in which he played 15 or more minutes, he dropped 20.
There was no doubt that it was his defense that was keeping Bradley on the floor. In his sophomore season in 2011-12 he established himself as one of the best on-ball defenders in the NBA, earning a role as the starting shooting guard in 28 of the 64 games he played. Part of the reason Ray Allen left after the season was because Rondo went to Doc saying Bradley should get the permanent starting job. Unfortunately AB’s season was cut short when he dislocated his shoulder in the playoffs. His absence was a significant loss for the Celtics on the defensive end and could have made a difference in their 7-game battle with the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.
After missing the first few months while recovering from his injury, Bradley continued to be a key contributor in 2012-13 as he and Courtney Lee, otherwise known as “The Pitbulls”, made sure they were one of the most feared defensive backcourts in the NBA. The 22 year-old Bradley received All-Defensive Second Team honors but showed he still had plenty of room for growth, though, averaging 9.2 points per game on just 40% shooting.
The big improvements to Bradley’s offense came under Brad Stevens. With Stevens taking over for Doc Rivers in 2013-14 following the trade of Pierce and Garnett, the C’s were in desperate need of scoring. AB worked tirelessly on his shot and his offensive execution to make sure the team would be able to rely on him at both ends of the floor in the future. The result was 14.9 points per game, Boston’s second highest average behind Jeff Green.
He went on to average 13.9 per game in 2014-15 and 15.3 per game in 2015-16, and the defense only got better as he was chosen for the 2016 All-Defensive First Team.
Bradley’s progression was a joy to watch. There are a lot of guys who come into the league and can only do one thing consistently. It’s rare to see a guy like that get better at the weakest part of his game year after year to the point where it become a strength. Bradley was robbed of another NBA All-Defensive selection this past season, but his 16.3 PPG on 46% shooting was the best offensive output of his career and solidified his place as one of the most underrated two-way players in the game. He was a key component in getting the Celtics to the top of the East and back to the Conference Finals.
And now it’s over. Seven seasons of nothing but hard work and improvements. He embodied what being a Celtic is all about. He learned from Pierce and KG at a young age and passed that knowledge onto the younger players after they left. Now he’s a mature 26 year-old with an impeccable work ethic who’s willing to lock down the opposing team’s best scorer while also hitting clutch buckets.
The sad part is he’ll be doing all of that for a different team next year. So it’s only right that we take some time to look back at the best moments of Avery Bradley’s memorable Celtics career:
10. Game-Winner vs. Knicks | March 4, 2016
9. Game-Tying Buzzer Beater vs. Lakers | February 22, 2015
8. Block on Dwyane Wade | April 1, 2012
7. Block on Norris Cole leading to Paul Pierce three | March 18, 2013
6. Dunk on Ed Davis | March 23, 2013
5. Clutch block on Gordon Hayward | February 29, 2016
4. Clutch lockdown defense on Kyrie Irving | March 1, 2017
3. Dunk on Kevin Durant | February 22, 2012
2. Game-winner in Cleveland | February 5, 2016
1. Eastern Conference Finals game-winner in Cleveland | May 21, 2017
There’s no doubt the Celtics are heading in the right direction, but AB will be an extremely hard guy to replace. The Pistons are getting a true professional who is just entering his prime. That upward trend that he’s displayed year after year isn’t stopping anytime soon.
Follow Jack Bardsley on Twitter @BostonsBigFour
Photo Credit: Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports