With all the hubbub that the signing of Shaquille O’Neal has created, it has been easy at times to overlook some of the other new additions to the roster.
Granted, the Big Aristotle (or Big Shamrock, Kazaam, or whatever he ends up being dubbed officially) fills a pressing need. The Celtics clearly needed a body in the middle outside of Jermaine O’Neal with Perk being out a significant amount of time, and Shaq was preferable to some of the other options tossed around this offseason (Kwame Brown and Brad Miller, to name two).
So yes, this team has undergone quite a dramatic shift up front. But lost in the incredibly large shadow of Shaq-Fu (I’m just going to try these out until one fits) is the lack of movement in the backcourt. And that is what makes Avery Bradley one of the most intriguing addition the Celtics have made this offseason.
Bradley is likely to be one of two new faces in the Celtics backcourt (Delonte West is an old face but still counts), and he has been lost in the shuffle of all the Celtics’ post draft moves. With most fans still demoralized by Game 7, the draft was almost an afterthought. It usually is with many veteran teams, particularly when it is a relatively weak draft like this year’s addition.
Bradley didn’t play in the summer league because of ankle surgery, so fans that had never seen him before missed out on the chance to see how good their new backup guard is. It doesn’t help that Bradley didn’t live up to the hype of being the No. 1 prospect in ESPN’s 2009 High School Rankings—above top five picks John Wall, Derrick Favors and DeMarcus Cousins—and that he was part of an underachieving Texas team that fizzled down the stretch last season. It wasn’t until Tuesday night’s preseason game against Philadelphia that C’s fans got a chance to watch the only first round pick besides J.R. Giddens who has actually put on a Celtics uniform since Gerald Green in 2005. While Celtics fans can only hope that Bradley’s career doesn’t follow either one of the paths that those two took, it is exciting to be able to follow the career of a young draft pick once again.
And if you ask me, Bradley has a real chance to shine on this team by the end of this year. As an undersized two-guard with the wingspan to defend the position, he is an ideal complement to Nate Robinson or Delonte West in the backcourt. He was the best perimeter defender from this past draft, and playing him with Robinson or West eases his transition and lessens the exposure of his limitations by putting him at off-guard. As good as Robinson has been in the preseason (not to mention last year’s playoffs), people forget that he was in Doc’s doghouse for most of last season. And we have already seen this preseason that Delonte West might not be all that durable. So even with the odds stacked against him, Bradley might get some time as the season wears on.
Bradley is certainly raw, and the transition won’t be easy thanks to all the time has has missed. It will probably take a few months in the D-League to bring him up to speed, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be a part of the Celtics’ plans for this season. In my mind, Bradley has the chance to be the Celtics’ new Tony Allen, in more ways than one. By that I mean that he is also not that adept at finishing at the rim, doesn’t have the best handles, and will make his mark on the less flashy end of the court. He has already showcased his defensive prowess in limited minutes in these past two games, drawing high praise for his ball pressure and instincts.
As a rookie, Bradley is going to be inconsistent. After all, he is only one year removed from college, and who knows how much playing time he will get. He is going to have to show Doc and the rest of the coaching staff he deserves to play, but by the end of this year I see him having a significant role on this team.
Now, obviously the addition of Delonte West and Bradley’s injury troubles hamper his potential impact impact. West can defend taller players and has experience on his side. Doc doesn’t love to play rookies, and Bradley hasn’t had the chance yet to show that he should be the exception. But with West’s own injury issues (not to mention the fact that he is already sitting out the first 10 games) and the increasing reality that Von Wafer is unlikely to make the club, Bradley could be needed sooner rather than later.
So, by all means continue to relish in the Shaq pickup, just like Knicks’ fans did last night. I am, at least for the fact that he will be entertaining and I can join the ranks in making jokes about how the Celtics now have almost a fifth of the 2002 All-Star game roster on their team. If only we still had Wally Szczerbiak and Antoine (Did you know that ‘Toine actually started that game? But I digress…). And get excited about the depth the C’s are displaying in the preseason, from West, Robinson and Glen Davis right on down to Stephane Lasme.
But while Bradley might not be on the minds of fans right now, I think that he will be just as integral a part of this team as the Diesel when all is said and done. Now all he needs is a nickname of his own.