Green, Bradley Find True Positions in Boston (Part 2)
This is Part 2 of a two-part story on Jeff Green and Avery Bradley. Click here to return to Part 1.
Within the game of basketball, transformation is rare. From Hall of Famers to reserves, positions and roles are defined. Asking a player to drastically alter those positions or roles, particularly on the fly, is a difficult request.
That didn’t prevent the Celtics from putting the pressure on two of their most promising young players. Green and Bradley were both that required to make improvisational transformations. Green’s was marked by time. Bradley’s was underlined by confidence.
The Celtics acquired Green at the trade deadline in 2011. Regardless of what position he had played for the previous half-decade, the team envisioned him as a wing. He was thrown into the fire to learn the small forward position, all while providing minutes at power forward as well, in the midst of Boston’s title chase.
“I remember the first year, I thought we messed him up,” Rivers recalls from 2011. “I kept saying that that year. We were trying to put him back and forth at the 4, at the 3.”
Still, there was no question about what Green’s primary role was at that time. He was added to the Celtics to provide insurance on the wing behind No. 34, Paul Pierce. That role did not make Green feel at ease during his early days in Boston.
“First off, it was uncomfortable because I wasn’t used to coming off pick-and-rolls, I wasn’t coming off of pin-downs,” Green says. “I’ve been a power forward my whole career, four years into the league, and then this one year, Doc put me in a position where I had to play on the perimeter the majority of the game.”
Green is long. He’s athletic. He has the perfect NBA body. Most would assume that the switch would come easily to him, but those people underestimate how drastic a move to small forward really is.
“It’s big. It’s big,” Green says about the difference between the two positions. “It goes from banging some games to a finesse type of game on the perimeter from the 3 to the 4. It’s more on your body when you’re playing the 3, because you’ve got to do it on both ends.”
He went on to talk about the challenges of defending his former teammate, Durant, who is now a three-time scoring champ, as well as guys like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. There are no off nights at small forward, he says. You better bring it, because it will be brought to you.
The every day grind of being an NBA small forward is a challenge in and of itself. Answering the bell every night while learning new skills and tendencies made the transition even more difficult on Green. He wasn’t able to make those adjustments overnight.
“It took me a full year,” Green admits. “I’m still now getting used to it. Now I’m doing a lot more pick-and-roll stuff this year than I did last year, but it took a while. It took probably a whole year to get comfortable with it.”
In reality, it took a whole year of basketball, but two years of real time. Green was sidelined for the 2011-12 season after team doctors discovered an aortic aneurism in his heart. Following surgery, he returned to the court with a clean bill of health in October of 2012 to continue his transformation.
Green struggled early on in the 2012-13 season but showed flashes of greatness. Then on March 18 against James and the Miami Heat, in Green’s 93rd regular-season game in a Celtics uniform, it clicked.
“I think that was probably the game, because I did it pretty much the entire game,” says Green while turning the clock back to the most dominant performance of his career. “Rebounds, grabbing it off the board and just going, not necessarily looking for our guards. That’s what Doc wanted me to do, and I think that game was a game where, especially playing against one of the best players in this league, where I felt comfortable in doing that.”
The Heat couldn’t have felt more uncomfortable while watching Green go to work. He scored a career-high 43 points in that game while shooting 14-of-21 from the field. He was, in utter truth, unstoppable.
That performance launched Green into another stratosphere of his career. It put him on the map as a small forward and it eased Boston’s pain after parting ways with Pierce during the 2013 offseason. Green quickly became the small forward of the future for the Celtics, just as Ainge had planned all along.
Bradley, ironically, was Boston’s starting point guard during that game against the Heat. He, along with everyone else, can pinpoint the completion of Green’s transformation. Bradley’s personal narrative of transformation is much less definitive.
“I don’t think I had a moment where it clicked like that,” Bradley admits. “My thing, more than anything, is when you see how confident your teammates are in you.”
Even more important is how confident Bradley became in himself, and it all began with a demotion.
Bradley didn’t know it at the time, but when the Celtics sent him down to the Maine Red Claws of the NBA Development League, it was the first key step to his maturation. Bradley went from arguably being the best player on the floor at Texas to being demoted from the Celtics. In hindsight, the guard admits that he needed to be knocked down and be forced to get back up.
“Being one of the star players in college and coming onto a team that had a lot of stars my first year, I lost a lot of confidence,” Bradley says. “Being a young player and a young guy, I kind of looked at the D-League sometimes as a punishment. So when I went down there, I lost even more confidence.”
Slowly but surely, that confidence was built back up. Through hard work and dedication, Bradley crafted his game on the practice floor and waited for his opportunity to arrive. When Allen went down in 2012 and Bradley’s name was called to become Boston’s starting shooting guard, he was there to answer the call.
Fast-forward to the 2013-14 season and you’ll find No. 0 is one of the most promising young shooting guards in the league. He’s no longer just a defensive stopper who was an NBA All-Defensive Second Team selection for the 2012-13 season. His offense has caught up to his defense. He’s splashing the nets with his jumpers while dripping confidence all over the court.
“I have a lot more confidence because not only my teammates believe in me, but I believe in myself,” Bradley proudly states. “My confidence is high now because I know that I work hard for success and I’m always in the gym trying to improve my game.”
Bradley feels confident, and he looks confident, too. Nowadays, he doesn’t wait for shots to find him. He searches them out, just like a true shooting guard is supposed to.
How does one complete a transformation in the NBA? The answer to that question, it seems, is dependent on the subject.
“Everybody has different needs,” Ainge says. “Every player’s at a different phase, a different time of their careers and there’s different roles.”
Green was born to be an NBA wing. All he needed was time to prove that to the rest of the basketball world.
“I came in as a power forward and now I’m a small forward,” Green says in summation of his six-year career. “I love how I’ve grown every year into the player I am now. I’ve put in a lot of work to get into the position I’m in now.”
In Bradley’s case, he was born to be an NBA shooting guard. All he needed was the confidence to break free from his point guard shadow.
“I was able to learn from both positions,” Bradley says, “but confidence was the main thing for me.”
With confidence in tow, Bradley has shown his closest observers that he can become a star in this league.
“I just hope that Avery won’t settle for being good, and that he’ll try to be great,” Ainge says of his 23-year-old shooting guard. “He’s already a good player and he has a chance to be a great player if he just continues to work and he’s driven to become great.”
Ainge made that comment about Bradley but it applies to Green as well. Each player sits on the cusp of stardom after transforming themselves right before our very eyes.