By Warren Shaw
You’ll never see Avery Bradley tweet his own name followed by #NBAVote or anything remotely similar that begs you to notice him. In fact, Bradley is social media void in every way and remains a private individual who wants to keep his life off the court to himself.
But if you ask Bradley a question you will certainly get an honest answer and not the typical stock responses that seem to be cocked and ready for easy regurgitation. He’s thoughtful, reflective and engaging. He exudes confidence that stops well south of cocky and he makes you understand his drive to shed early labels is something he’s willing to prove as opposed to boast about.
Bradley is enjoying his best season as a pro and relates his game to hip-hop artist J-Cole whose body of work is widely recognized by those in the know, but he still isn’t a household name. Bradley spoke about those who he has made false prophets of with his success and much more.
Warren Shaw: Each year you’ve come back an added something to your game. This year you’ve become a plus rebounder at the guard position. How and why did that come about? Did the coaches ask that of you?
Avery Bradley: No, it’s just something that I wanted to add myself. I knew I was capable of improving as a rebounder—I really challenged myself, it’s not anything I spoke to anyone about. I just wanted to add something else to my game. That’s what it was and next year is going to be something else.
WS: So is there anything that you did specifically to work on becoming a better rebounder from a drills standpoint or is it just a mindset?
AB: Everything for me is all a mindset…scoring the basketball, defending—everything. I have to challenge myself because sometimes you relax and you aren’t attacking the game. So me crashing the glass keeps me in the game at all times. I knew it was also going to give me opportunities to bring the ball up the court myself. A lot of people said I couldn’t run pick and roll. So I said to myself if I get the rebound and push the ball up the court, I will basically be putting the team in the offense. I’ll give myself a chance to prove to people that if the ball is in my hands I can either make a play for my teammates or for myself.
WS: You are kind of the elder statesman on the roster now having been there with the Big Three and are really the last hold over from those teams. What is different about those early teams you were on compared to the team that takes the court this season?
AB: It’s different. When the Big Three was here we were more like a family. Those guys to this day I consider them my brothers—we were really close. Now I feel like we are professional. We have good relationships with one another and respect each other on and off the court. But that environment with the Big Three was completely different. It could be because we had a lot of older guys that were established in the NBA…but we were close man. We were like a family for real.
WS: How do you go about replicating that on this roster if you can?
AB: We can but I think it’s a challenge. We have a lot of young guys and players that are trying to prove themselves. I think the family atmosphere comes with maturity and sacrifice. There are a lot of things that play into that so that everybody is comfortable and willing to play for one another. That’s what we took pride in and it came from players like KG (Kevin Garnett). He sacrificed everything so that we could be the best team we could be and love each other.
[newsbox style=”nb1″ display=”tag” tag=”Celtics” title=”More Boston Celtics articles” number_of_posts=”2″ show_more=”no” nb_excerpt=”0″]
WS: You mentioned a little earlier that the coaches didn’t necessarily ask you to work on certain things but how much did those veteran guys like KG and Paul Pierce motivate you to become such a hard worker?
AB: Me being a young guy when those guys were here impacted me. I was coming to the gym three hours before practice to do an individual basketball workout, weightlift and then I would get more shots up until it was time to practice. When I was in there Paul would come in. I’m young and not playing but Paul is here? He’d come in and say “What are you young boys doing? I want to do all things you all are doing.” That right there motivated me and I realized it took more than doing just what’s required. You have to do extra work on your own time to be the best player or at least the player you want to be. Now it’s instilled in me. We have a game at 7:30, I get to the arena at 2. That’s just me and I learned that from those guys. I’m just trying to pass that down to the players on our team now—the younger guys because it goes by fast.
WS: Offensively is where you’ve been doubted most of your career but your improvement on that end can’t be denied. You can shoot the floater, dunk it, hit the three and I’ve seen you use the escape dribble often to get your shot off. What is your go-to-move or best part of your offense?
AB: Some people would argue and say my pull up jump shot. Some people now might say me coming off the screen and shooting the three. For me it’s all of those things because I work on them. Whatever situation I’m in I’ve worked on so many moves to get the best shot for myself or for our team.
WS: Defense was your calling card though. In your opinion what makes a player a good defender?
AB: It’s hard to say but I think for players like Kawhi (Leonard) and myself it’s a God-given gift. On top of that it’s will, dedication and wanting to give that effort every single possession. Defense—it’s boring to people and they don’t take pride in it. You don’t get credit for playing defense a lot and certainly not as much as you get on the offensive end. But for me it is a pride thing ever since high school. I feel like that’s how you can show how much better you are than your opponent.
WS: I’m glad you mentioned Kawhi because I think guys who come into the league as defenders have a hard time winning people over when their offense sort of catches up to the rest of their game. Would you agree and who are some of the best true two-way players in the league?
AB: I do agree. Kawhi and myself stand out to me to be honest. Obviously his rise was a little different because he was able to win a championship but starting off I felt like I was in the same situation. I had to defend to get on the court and eventually show everything else.
WS: There are a couple of guys on your team who hang their hat on defense too in Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart. Do you all have some conversation about that and who is the best defender on the team?
AB: Who do I think is the best? Me of course.
WS: Would Marcus and Jae agree?
AB: I think they would. It would be hard for them to but I think they would. I don’t notice it sometimes but my teammates always tell me ‘how the hell did you do that…how did you make that play?’ I remember (Rajon) Rondo and those guys would ask me that all the time. One year I think I ripped every point guard in the NBA and they were like nobody in history has done that, especially with how the game is called now. I always brushed it off but now looking back at it that was incredible. It’s hard to pick someone up full court at this level, steal the ball and score on the other end.
WS: I think one of the plays that made me really take notice some years ago is when you blocked the holy hell out of Dwyane Wade. Is there a play that stands out for you on either side of the ball that made you feel like you arrived?
AB: One play, that I didn’t know I made at the time but I watched the highlights, I still don’t know how I did it. I was defending Jrue Holiday and he went to shoot it and I grabbed it out the air. Like I cuffed it but it was a jump shot though! I’m thinking I know that’s never happened. You see bigs get guys like that on drives all the time but I did that on a jump shot. I cuffed it—man I don’t know how I did that. Some of the plays I look at, I’m beat and I found a way to steal the ball. It’s just a God gift. I don’t care about being embarrassed. Someone can cross me and I don’t care, that’s part of the game. If they cross me I guarantee the next possession I’m going to be right there again.
WS: What do you think the perception is of you around the league? Do guys give you props after the game for being a tenacious defender—like did Holiday have a reaction after you cuffed his jumper?
AB: You want to know something—I don’t really hear anything until players maybe come to our team. Once they are here I’ve heard ‘Man I hated playing against you’ or “You don’t know how we game planned around you’. Coaches would say don’t play with the ball in front of him. It’s crazy just hearing that. My reputation around the NBA was don’t even try dribble with him on you.
WS: Does it bother you that maybe it took some time for your reputation to build or for people to value your skills?
AB: I get props from my peers and I’m always told no one does what you do. The only thing that bothers me is that the public doesn’t always notice it. But it is what is and I can look at it as a blessing too because it continues to push me to be much better on both ends. People notice all the flashy stuff. I can walk around now and nobody is really going to say oh there is Avery Bradley—he’s first team all-defense and he averages 18 points per game. They might just say oh you are a good defender.
WS: Let me ask you this as you mention all-defense. Do the accolades mean something to you? All-Star, All-NBA, First Team All-Defense? Are those things you are gunning for?
AB: Of course. I feel like you should reach for the stars in each occupation that you are in. Never sell yourself short. I work hard—everyday. I feel like I deserve a chance to be recognized. I’ve noticed it this year though where I will guard a team’s best player and they are guarding me with their best defender.
WS: With that said the team has some guys as you mentioned earlier seeking respect in general. Crowder was upset the other night about the respect shown to Gordon Hayward and the conversation continues to be that the Celtics need another star. What’s your take on that are you guys good enough?
AB: It doesn’t bother me. That’s just opinion and people are always going to talk. I’m seven years into the league and I know all of that now. Fans are going to love you and hate you. People are going to say things. We could get someone and then they’ll say we need something else. All we can do is worry about getting better every single day. Those are things that we can control. I can control how good I want to be and hearing all that just makes me want to go into the gym.
WS: As a veteran you are being looked to as a leader on the team and I think there are some comparisons between you and Terry Rozier who’s just starting his NBA career. How have you helped him and others?
AB: I work with everybody. All my teammates would probably tell you I don’t talk much so when I do they actually listen. Usually I pull people to the side but not just with basketball but life outside of basketball as well. We are together every single day and I care about all of these guys. I want to see them be great. That’s what this game is about. It’s about all these relationships and helping each other as much as we can. I take pride in that because the guys before me they helped me. I remember KG told me one day ‘I do all this for you because I want you to do it for the guys when you are in my position.’ That always stuck with me. Now I’m helping guys get their first suit or little things like that. They all call me the grandpa of the team because I tell people how it is.
WS: In the corporate world people often get asked where do they see themselves in five years. But adapting that to the NBA where does Avery Bradley want to be in his career five years from now?
AB: (Laughing) In five years I see myself in my new deal. I see myself really understanding my game—whatever team I’m on—knowing what they need from me. I have 10 more years left in this game. I want to play 17 years. I think I’ll be all into playing hard and helping people, that’s all I care about.
WS: With a championship ring on your finger perhaps?
AB: I’d love to win a championship man, but I wouldn’t want to hop from team to team just to get it. No offense to anybody that does. It’s just for me I care more about helping people and just playing hard. I feel like all that stuff just comes. Like I said earlier if we are all like a family and I’m the one that’s starting that culture—a championship can come with that.
[newsbox style=”nb1″ display=”tag” tag=”staff” title=”More from BBALLBREAKDOWN Staff” number_of_posts=”2″ show_more=”no” nb_excerpt=”0″]