The Up Side of Avery’s Trip Down

Many consider Bradley’s banishment to the D-league a kiss of death, an admission that his first-round draft position was a bust, and that his decent into the realm of mediocrity was the equivalent of crossing the river Styx. Nay, I say. The assignment to Maine is a logical step in his long and oft delayed adaptation to playing point, or even combo, guard in the NBA.

If anything the move comes surprisingly late. Given that he missed summer league, much of camp, most of the first month of the season, and couldn’t even practice or work out for much of that time, a rehab assignment with the Red Claw affiliate seemed almost mandatory. Given that he is making the most difficult transition from shooting guard to point guard, left college after only one season in which he was often misused, and is still a boy in age and development, a season or at least a partial season in the minors seemed both prudent and expected. Far from a demotion, I view this period in Portland as an investment, and one that may pay dividends sooner as well as later.

Avery Bradley may have been the higher draft pick but he lacked
the years of experience and physical development from which his two rookie brethren benefited. As a four-year mainstay of a major college program Luke Harangody came with a long and burnished résumé in spite of his diminutive stature and funky shot. Semih Erden arrived after a many-year grooming period in European ball, including two seasons after he was drafted with Boston’s last (and last in the draft) pick following their championship in 2008. Both were years older and far more physically (and probably mentally) mature than the precocious Bradley.

It wouldn’t have been surprising if Avery began his pro career in Portland. Likely the fact that the D-league starts up nearly a month after the NBA season begins, and that Delonte West was suspended through the first half of November and gone with a broken wrist one week later, both contributed to the presence of Bradley at the end of the bench of the big league club. Add to that the fact that Rondo’s string of injuries (planar fasciitis, hamstring, multiple ankle sprains) began in the first week of the season and that Nate Robinson has had his own ankle woes. Oh and the fact that there have seldom been enough healthy bodies to fill out a 12-man active squad for game day had to leave Doc reluctant to further pare his dwindling options. In fact I would posit that if it were only Bradley’s welfare and development under consideration he would have started the season in the D-league—but the parent club has often been only an ankle tweak away from fielding their backup small forward at point and having, well, nobody, to spell Paul Pierce.

With all the injuries, the general advanced age of half the roster, and the busy regular season schedule, there have be precious few opportunities to practice; and practice is what Bradley desperately needs. With three point guards (well at least for five games in November) in front of him, there have been next to no minutes of playing time available; and actual play is what the inexperienced Bradley also needs. In Maine Avery will get both of these in significant doses and will be the better for it. Basketball is very much a game of rhythm and flow. Confidence is an elixir allowing peak performance. Bradley, by all accounts, has been a willing and active learner from the bench but there is just so much that can be accomplished without doing and experience. The competition may not be the best in the world but at least he will get some time seeing the game from within rather than from the sideline. He will get up enough shots to try and find a groove, and that was never going to happen on the parquet hardwood, at least not this year. Yes, all are best served with this assignment to the Red Claws.

And by all I mean the parent club too. With talents exercised and honed, confidence built, and actual experience doubled or trebled, I consider it quite likely that Avery will return to Boston much better prepared to contribute. If his progress allows him to be on the court without being a offensive liability (meaning able to hit the mid-range jumper with fair success and get the ball into play without forcing a teammate to break out of the offense to get the ball) then I can see him being particularly useful against the power point guards like Derrick Rose or Deron Williams (Arenas, Collison, Stuckey, Davis, Miller, Billups—yeah there are probably more power types than finesse). We’ve seen Nate overmatched and although he’s trying harder on defense, he is still not great at sliding over screens or staying in front of his man, both strengths of Bradley. Most of the league makes a living off screen and roll or drive and kick. Stopping these tactics in their tracks goes a long way toward keeping the big men out of foul trouble, denying shooters open looks, and preventing the defensive collapses that give up scoring opportunities and rebounding position. One of Rondo’s strengths is that when focused and not gambling he is a lock down defender at point guard and with the hand-check rules that is a rare commodity these days. In Avery the Celtics have another and with less than half a dozen in the league that is almost cornering the market.