Bradley, Wafer Benefit From Shorthanded Practice

WALTHAM, Mass. – It’s a good thing the Boston Celtics didn’t have a game scheduled for noon today, because only 11 players would have suited up for it if they did.

We all know about the well-chronicled injury situation the C’s are currently dealing with, as Delonte West (broken wrist), Jermaine O’Neal (sore knee) and Kendrick Perkins (knee rehab) are all out of the lineup for the foreseeable future, but an extra kink was thrown into the mix this afternoon when Shaquille O’Neal was also not present for practice.

O’Neal was absent from the practice facility this afternoon because he mixed up the time of practice, according to Doc Rivers. Boston’s starting center did, however, know that the team was flying out of the Boston area at 3 p.m. for its trip to Cleveland for Tuesday night’s game, so there were no worries that he would miss the flight.

Although Rivers seemed to be serious when stating that O’Neal simply didn’t have the practice time correct, he did hint that the Big Shamrock wasn’t going to practice even if he had been in the building.

“Yeah, he got more rest,” Rivers said of O’Neal, responding to the question of where he was today. “And we anticipated him getting (another day of rest). He’s feeling good. He should feel great (after three days off).”

The rest of the Celtics – at least the healthy ones – had only two days off and were back in action on the practice floor this afternoon. With the recent string of injuries the Celtics have suffered, the lack of bodies may actually have been a good thing, particularly for guys like Avery Bradley and Von Wafer.

The loss of West leaves a gaping hole in the backcourt of the second unit, and it’s likely that either Bradley or Wafer will see a significant bump in their time spent on the floor, rather than the bench, during upcoming games. Wafer seems to be the natural piece to slide into the rotation in place of West, but Rivers hinted that Bradley may be leaned on as well.

“One of the two will help us,” Rivers said of Wafer and Bradley. “Obviously we need Von more than Avery in some ways because we need the two, the guy to play the two spot, but Avery… Avery can help us.”

Bradley can help Boston with his defense, which drew rave reviews from Rajon Rondo this afternoon. From the moment the Celtics chose Bradley with the 19th overall selection in this year’s NBA Draft, Rivers and Danny Ainge claimed that he could immediately step in and defend at a high level in the league. According to Rondo, his rookie protégé has already proven that sentiment to be true during practice.

“He’s way past me defensively,” Rondo said before being asked if he was comparing Bradley’s defense to where his was as a rookie. He continued, “He’s way past me now, probably, in terms of pick-and-rolls. He’s very physical. To be so young – he’s like wiry strong – he’s a physical point guard who gets through the picks and he gets up into you defensively. He turns you and makes you dribble with your back to the basket.”

Defense will always find you a spot in Boston’s rotation, just ask Perkins. Perk isn’t known as a scorer, but he can defend with the best of them and that’s exactly why he is regarded as the perfect center for this Celtics team. It sounds as if Bradley can provide a similar level of defense at the point guard position, but his familiarity with the offense is what may prevent him from entering the regular rotation.

Bradley has only been practicing with the team for about a week since returning from an ankle injury, and that has put him far behind in terms of knowing the team’s offensive playbook. That fact troubled Rivers enough to have him bring the rookie in on Sunday, a day the rest of the Celtics had off, to get extra reps running the offense he has yet to grasp.

“The tough one is Avery because you’re putting Avery on the floor and you’re asking him to run an offense that he doesn’t know,” Rivers said. “We’re trying to figure out – we had him come early today, we actually had him practice yesterday – and we’re just trying to figure out what we can run with Avery where the whole unit can still function.”

Wafer’s case, oddly enough, is the exact opposite. The Celtics signed him because of his shooting ability, which he has often shown off during practice, but his defense had been questioned until last week. Since West went down, Wafer has stepped in and performed well enough at the defensive end to provoke some compliments from Rivers. After Boston’s 89-83 win over New Jersey Wednesday night, Rivers said, “Defense and Von Wafer can now go together, and that’s a great thing.” He also commended Wafer on his defensive commitment after today’s practice.

“He’s working on it,” River said. “That’s all you want a player to do is to try to do your stuff and do it hard and do it to the best of his ability. I think Von is trying to do that.”

If Wafer can continue to play defense at the level he did Wednesday night, he’s going to get playing time. He has taken only 11 shots this season, making four, but the C’s know his offense will always be there. It’s the defense that must be consistent, and he got to work on that plenty today.

With only 11 players available for practice, everyone was on the court for nearly the entire session. That may not be exactly what the C’s would prefer for guys like the Big Three and Rondo, but for Bradley and Wafer it held extra importance. We’ll see soon if it pays off.