Time for Avery Bradley to take the next step

Where this current Celtics squad will end up at the conclusion of the season, either making the playoffs or throwing their hat in the ring in the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes, is a topic of debate.

What's less speculative is Avery Bradley needs to take the next step in his professional career if he is to be the starting guard of the future for Boston. Many are talking about how this is the year Rajon Rondo proves what kind of player he is as he will be the lone superstar for the first time in his career with the trade of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn, but it's just as important a season for Bradley.

Bradley is entering his fourth NBA season and while still quite young at 22, he is coming into a contract year that will decide how he is paid for the next few seasons. This from Chris Forsberg at ESPN:

The 22-year-old guard is scheduled to earn $2.5 million next season in the fourth year of his rookie pact. A $3.6 million qualifying offer looms next offseason, but he will be a restricted free agent if that kicks in, and outside interest could force the Celtics to negotiate a longer-term deal or risk losing him to a deep-pocketed bidder.

Even if Bradley has a subpar year this season, teams will no doubt offer a nice pay raise to Bradley based on his defense and potential which would force Danny Ainge to take a long look at Bradley and decide if he really is one of the pieces to build on going forward.

Bradley could also be used as a trade chip to acquire a more established veteran as part of the rebuild Boston is currently undertaking if his game doesn't get fleshed out. It's certainly not Bradley's defense that has some wondering exactly what kind of player he is or could become, making the All-Defensive second team last season. It's his offense.

Again from Forsberg:

Of all players with at least his 574 total offensive possessions, Bradley ranked 183rd out of 187 in points per possession, according to Synergy. While he would never admit it, his confidence eroded as he was forced to play de facto ball handler when starting backcourt partner Rajon Rondo tore his ACL in January, less than a month after Bradley had returned from his own rehab.

The last we saw of Bradley on the court, he was enduring a rough postseason, exploited by New York Knicks guard Raymond Felton, who might have been the X factor of a first-round series when many thought Bradley would fill that role for Boston. One New York writer dubbed him "Average" Bradley.

A healthy Rondo could be just what the doctor ordered for Bradley to return to his defensive dominance and restore his confidence, but that jumper has to start falling. Rondo isn't exactly a sharpshooter and in the NBA you can get away with one guard who can't shoot, but not two.

Another obstacle in Bradley's way is the roster itself. The Celtics' deepest position is shooting guard. With the additions of Keith Bogans and MarShon Brooks, the Celtics have five players who can play two-guard with Bradley, Courtney Lee and Jordan Crawford. How much Bogans and Crawford will play may be a non-issue, but Brooks is a very nice young player who can score and even though Lee had a less-than-stellar year last season, he still has value with his defense and shooting. One or two of these players will probably be gone in a deal before the season starts, but saying Bradley's minutes are guaranteed at this moment is a stretch at best.

If Bradley can work in a mid-range jumper and a three point shot here and there into his arsenal to the point that opposing defenses have to pay attention to him, then his defense is enough to pencil him in as the two-guard of the Celtics for years to come. If not, then expect Ainge to get as much as he can for Bradley from a team that still thinks they can fix his shooting. However it plays out, we should have a better sense of the real Avery Bradley by the end of the season.

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