Avery Bradley is entering the most important season of his career. He is apparently completely healthy following numerous injuries. He returned last year just in time for Rajon Rondo's knee injury. Putting him into a position where he had to handle the ball more, including down the stretch of games when his skills were tested, and for most most part they failed. Bradley's modus operandi to this point is his defense and his ability to cut quickly to the basket. His defense helped the Celtics immensely in the second half of the season. He's a lockdown defender, no doubt about it.
Earlier this summer Bradley said he had spent the entire off-season getting stronger, even commenting that his teammates have noticed a difference during pick-up games.
That leads us to the 2013-14 season, where Bradley is playing for a qualifying offer at the end of the season. Bradley has never played more than 64 games in a season. His minutes have gone up steadily, Doc Rivers trusted him at the end of games, and Bradley brings a lot to the table.
But it all begs the question: Will he earn a contract with the Celtics next year?
This season, in some regards, will be an open try-out for some of the guys on the roster. Jared Sullinger and MarShon Brooks have team options, while Bradley and Jordan Crawford (who is jockeying for the "leader" tag this year), have qualifying offers at the end of the season. Danny Ainge is looking for players to build around in the future. He wants to free up cap space and not waste money. That means Bradley is on watch, and he'll need to improve his game in order to prove he is worth the Celtics' money going forward.
What will Bradley have to do to earn that contract?
Simple. He has to stay healthy. He must play 75+ games. He must remain a defensive stopper, and his offense has to improve.
Bradley has never averaged more than 10 points per game in a season. He shot 31% on three-pointers last season. He needs to make sure his shooting percentage gets to around 45% (he shot 49% in 2011-12 in 64 games). He'll have more offensive responsibility because there's frankly not a lot of offense on this team right now.
Bradley also needs Rondo to get healthy as soon as possible, because it will allow Bradley to settle into the role he wants to play in. He is not a point guard, and considering how thin the Celtics are at point guard and the log-jam at shooting guard, it seems like Bradley will be asked to handle the ball in Rondo's stead while the rest of the shooting guards battle for time at that position.
It's a mess in the back-court right now due to injuries and a lack of talent. Looking back at recent NBA Champions, they either have a defensive stud or a super-duper star at shooting guard. Bradley could be a nice piece on a championship team if other people can score (i.e. Tony Allen or Bruce Bowen).
So, will Bradley prove his worth this year and get a new contract? It seems most likely that he will be back. Ainge was the one who picked him in the draft, he's pretty affordable, and it's much easier to coach a guy to play offense than defense.
However, if he gets hurt again he might be looking for a new team to play for.
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