Bradley Makes Case to Rising Stars

BOSTON – Pretend for a moment that you’re Jameer Nelson, a former All-Star point guard and the current floor general of the Orlando Magic.

Now imagine that Kevin Garnett has been compressed into a 6-foot-2 guard’s body and is harassing you with his defensive intensity 94 feet at a time, for the entirety of an NBA basketball game.

Avery Bradley

Avery Bradley's defense took Jameer Nelson out of a basketball game twice in a four-day span in late-January.
Fernando Medina/NBAE/Getty

Doesn’t sound too fun, does it?

It wasn’t enjoyable for Nelson and the Magic to experience in reality, because that’s essentially what happened when the Celtics unleashed Avery Bradley on them back on Jan. 23.

Boston won that game 87-56, setting a franchise record for least amount of points allowed during the shot clock era, and it was all because of Bradley’s terrifying defense. That defense, which has helped spark Boston’s drastic turnaround over the past three weeks, is why Bradley should be invited to participate in the Rising Stars Challenge later this month at All-Star weekend in Orlando.

Realistically speaking, All-Star games and defense go together like comedies and water works. Your eyes aren’t supposed to well up with tears while you’re watching a comedy. Instead, you should be laughing your tail off and smiling from ear to ear. Likewise, the world’s best basketball players aren’t supposed to play defense during All-Star weekend. Instead, they should be scoring hundreds of points and turning the arena into Lob City.

But that doesn’t mean defensive-minded players can’t be rewarded with a spot in these events. Just look at Garnett’s recent stretch of All-Star nods while he has been in a Celtics uniform.

Garnett, who has sacrificed his previously-gaudy statistics since his arrival in Boston nearly five years ago, has made the All-Star team every season that he’s been here. He changes the defensive culture of his team while he’s on the floor and everyone around the league understands that. That’s why if he’s not voted in by fans, NBA coaches have always made sure that Garnett is honored with a spot on the team.

The same process should now take place with Bradley, who is averaging just 4.0 PPG, 1.8 RPG and 1.3 APG this season. He understands that he’s not putting up the numbers that many of his sophomore peers are, but he also knows that his defense is making an impact that many of those peers can’t match.

“It brings a lot to the team, as far as energy,” Bradley told Celtics.com of his defense. “You know when people say it’s the type of things that aren’t flashy, that don’t show up on the stat sheet, but it gets the job done? I feel like that’s what I do with my defense.”

Nelson would be the first to admit that Bradley’s defense does more than get the job done. Heck, as Bradley told reporters after Boston’s Jan. 23 drubbing of Orlando, Nelson had practically been begging him throughout the game to ease off with his full-court pressure.

The Magic’s head coach, Stan Van Gundy, went as far as to give the following quote about Bradley during his initial statement to the media following that game: “His defense set the whole tone for the entire thing. He took us out.”

Bradley’s incredible pressure defense has been taking opponents out and setting Boston’s defensive tone for nearly three weeks now. That defense, which has resulted in many teammates claiming that he is the best on-ball defender in the NBA, has led to a drastic turnaround for the Celtics’ season.

When Rajon Rondo went down on Jan. 18 with a sprained right wrist, the Celtics were clinging onto their season with a 4-8 record. When Rondo returned to the lineup on Feb. 3, he rejoined a team that was streaking up the standings. Now the Celtics have won nine of their last 11 games, are 13-10 on the season, lead the league in opponent field goal percentage and rank second in opponent scoring.

It’s no coincidence that the turnaround happened once Bradley began to stick a fork in Boston’s opposing point guards. The energy that he brings to the floor has been infectious to his teammates.

“He’s playing so hard, he’s harassing the point guards,” teammate and Celtics captain Paul Pierce said of Bradley. “So our other guys are trying to deny and then they (the opponent) catch it and once they get into their offense there’s only like 10 or 11 seconds on the shot clock. And as everybody knows around the NBA, it’s tough to run your offense with 10-11 seconds on the shot clock.”

Opponents have been trying to do that against Boston since Bradley burst onto the scene in his first start. His defense was the spark to this team’s turnaround, and the fire has now carried on for nearly three weeks.

We all know that Bradley shouldn’t be selected to the Rising Stars Challenge game because of his numbers. He should be selected based on his impact, which is undeniable.

Avery Bradley

Bradley has already surpassed last season's totals in every statistical category.
David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty

The Celtics are 6-2 when Bradley starts and 7-8 when he doesn’t. They are 12-3 when he plays at least 10 minutes.

During Bradley’s eight starts, the assist-to-turnover ratio of opposing point guards (including Steve Nash, Nelson, Rookie of the Year frontrunner Kyrie Irving, the NBA’s second-best assist-to-turnover man Jose Calderon, among others) was just 2.36. To give you an idea of where that number falls on the point guard totem pole, it would rank 27th in the league today, just ahead of players like Earl Watson, Jeff Teague and Luke Ridnour. In other words, Bradley turned some of the NBA’s best into mediocre players.

Shouldn’t that impact trump the numbers accrued by some players on bad teams? Doc Rivers sure thinks so.

“I think there should be a spot on the All-Star team for guys like that, I’ve always thought that,” Rivers said when asked if Bradley should play in the Rising Stars Challenge. “There’s such things as role-playing All-Stars, and I’ve always thought that one of those spots should be left for one of those guys.”

Bradley’s defense has certainly put him into the category of role-playing All-Star, especially when you consider his impact compared to the rest of his sophomore class. He is waiting for the call to join some of those classmates in Orlando later this month, and if it ever comes, Bradley will savor the news.

“Everybody dreams of going to All-Star weekend,” he said, “and just to play in an event in it, that’s every kid’s dream and every basketball player’s dream.”

So if he does get the call, will he change the defensive culture of All-Star weekend by bringing that full-court ball pressure he has become known for to the Rising Stars Challenge?

“I don’t know,” he said as he leaned back in his locker room chair laughing, “I think they’d want me to lay off a little bit.”

“I’ll probably go in and have a good time,” he added.

He deserves to have that opportunity, and if he does, he’ll undoubtedly have a great time.

Even if he has to leave his defense back in home Boston.