Here’s a question for all the basketball lovers out there: Who is the best perimeter defender in the NBA? LeBron James, maybe? Could it be Tony Allen? Is it Andre Iguodala? Paul George? Nope. They are all good answers, but I put my money on Avery Bradley.
I mean, is it official yet? Can we please just anoint Avery Bradley as the King of On-Ball Defense? Never have I seen someone play defense with such passion and such aggression. The way he blankets the opposing ball-handler makes something as simple as dribbling across half-court a challenge. The kid has endless stamina and seems to never tire out. There really might not be another player in the NBA that expends that much energy on defense. You might see it in college basketball, but that doesn’t exist in the NBA, anyway. It is unparalleled, unreal.
Sure, there are a full arsenal of long-armed perimeter players in the league who are elite defenders with freakish athleticism like Lebron, Iggy, Paul George, Iman Shumpert, etc. But guess what? All of those guys are at least 6’5″. Avery Bradley stands at just 6’2″. Yet, despite being undersized, Bradley is literally capable of taking on any player in the NBA one-on-one.
The third-year combo guard out of Texas has shut down every top scorer he has faced this season, especially as of late. The night after Stephen Curry dropped 54 points at MSG, Bradley held him to just a 6-for-22 shooting effort from the field. Last weekend, the NBA’s soon-to-be Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard was held to just 5-of-16 shooting in a 12-point effort against Bradley. Last night, Jrue Holiday went just 6-for-17 from the floor with five turnovers in Philly’s loss to Bradley and the Celts. Different opponent, different backcourt, same results.
If you want fancy numbers to prove it, Bradley is second in the league in allowing a mere 0.678 points per play, according to Synergy Sports data. Furthermore, opponents generate points on a mere 31.4 percent of plays against Bradley, the lowest number in the league for players with at least 225 defensive possessions. Pretty good, eh?
Do you know what it is that makes Avery Bradley’s defense so incredible? It’s contagious. Bradley’s presence on the floor has completely changed the outlook of Boston’s season. The C’s are back to their defensive roots despite being an aging veteran team without a ton of athleticism. They started the season so poorly on the defensive end of the floor, but since Jan. 2 rolled around and Bradley finally made his way back into the lineup, the Celtics have been one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. His intensity inspired the rest of the team to put forth the extra effort on defense. Yet, Bradley also makes everyone else’s job easier at the same time. Look, for instance, at how much he disrupts something as simple as the pick and roll.
Not only did the C’s win six of their first seven games upon his return, but they have been able to maintain the losses of Rajon Rondo, Jared Sullinger, and Leandro Barbosa to injury. Since his return to the lineup, the Celtics are 18-11 with Bradley and have dramatically improved when it comes to points allowed and field goal percentage defense. I don’t want to say this sudden transformation is all because of one player….but yeah, it’s all because of one player.
On top of all this, my favorite part of this developing story is how much Avery Bradley takes pride in playing the role of defensive stopper. Bradley is still a work in progress on the offensive end of the floor, so for now, he is completely content being known as the lockdown defender, and he handles that role as good as anyone in the league. Guys like Lebron and Chris Paul and Kevin Durant are exceptional defenders; but they are also simply exceptional basketball players, period. They do everything well.
In contrast, guys like Tony Allen and Bruce Bowen have carved out lengthy careers in the league because of their defensive prowess. Bradley is the next player to fall into that line. But then imagine if he develops a great offensive game to accompany that constant defensive pressure? That’s a thought that might just bring tears of joy to the eyes of Boston fans everywhere.
In short, if Avery Bradley doesn’t earn All-NBA Defensive Team honors, it’ll be the farce of all farces. There is a reason why he was literally the only player on the Boston Celtics roster that Danny Ainge did not consider trading at the deadline. He is the building block of this franchise for a reason. He is a game-changer. He the best on-ball defender in the game, it’s as simple as that. It seems like this is the year the rest of the league is finally learning about Avery Bradley.