Owens ran over to check on Bradley, who was only smiling.
“That’s one thing about Avery,” Owens says. “He ain’t gotta talk smack to nobody, or go yell at teammates. He wasn’t the type like that. He’d just get up and smile.
“When I see him smile, I know the job is done.”
When Bradley’s family moved to Texas, he played football there, too, and starred, but when the family moved back to Washington, his mother made him choose a sport.
He chose basketball because, he says, his school only had flag football, not tackle.
“And I wasn’t going to play flag football,” he says.
Basketball it was.
Sum result: dominance
The Celtics have a drill where players are in a squatting position and explode upward as they throw a medicine ball toward the ceiling. The ball varies between 12 and 16 pounds. Bradley can throw it 30 feet high.
Only Rajon Rondo can match it.
Which is to say, Bradley, at 6-2, 180 pounds, and 3.2 percent body fat, is stronger than he looks.
The Celtics have a drill where players shuffle side to side and run forward and backward over six points as they pick up and set down a tennis ball. The team uses sensors to time the players. Bradley’s numbers are the best on the roster.
Which is to say, Bradley is also quite agile.
Mix those two physical characteristics with an ultracompetitive mind-set — “If Avery was playing against his 2-year-old niece, he’d probably try to block every shot of hers, too,” Ward says — and there’s the potential for a lock-down defender.
But in this era, when hand-checking is illegal, a defender’s most important feature is his feet — and that is perhaps Bradley’s greatest trait of all.
They were, says Michael Peck, Bradley’s coach at Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nev., “the quickest feet I’ve ever seen.”
He didn’t so much run as glide, as if he raced in the air, Peck says. Running north and south, Bradley looked smooth, his feet weightless.
He was also impressive laterally, where he crossed his feet over even though players are taught not to do that. But it didn’t matter.
“He’s defies technique,” Peck says.
Bradley studies opponents before games, in games, looking for tendencies, weaknesses. He uses tricks he won’t reveal. Opposing guards struggle to break free from Bradley, even after using a crossover or hesitation dribble.
“He just cuts you off one way, then you turn around back and he’s already at the next spot. Where are you supposed to go?” Wall asks. “There’s no playing with him.”
But while moving laterally, Bradley can also keep his man in front without fouling or reaching in, a rare ability that impressed Celtics assistant general manager Ryan McDonough when he scouted Bradley. While defensive-minded players tightrope a line of being aggressive, but not so aggressive that they rack up quick fouls, that trait was valuable.
Another impressive attribute: Bradley’s penchant for not gambling on steals. Many players go for steals knowing that if they fail, they risk being out of position. But Bradley focuses more on staying between his man and the basket.
“That’s pretty rare,” McDonough says. “That shows a sense of maturity that he’s content with locking his man down.”
“It was like he enjoyed it,” says Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge. “It was like that was his great skill, dominating players on the defensive end.”
But it wasn’t as though Bradley didn’t earn steals. “He’d wait on you to make a mistake, and if you a made a mistake, he was going to take it from you,” Ogden says.
Bradley, who averaged 1.3 steals this season, says his sole focus is to make life hard on his opponent, the entire game, even if 30 seconds remain and the outcome is decided.
“You could say I try to eliminate people,” he says.
Denver’s Jordan Hamilton, who played with Bradley at Texas, says he doesn’t even stop in practice.
“That’s all he looks to do, harass guys. He has the potential to be an all-defensive team player.”
Terry, his Celtics teammate, agrees. His lasting memory of Bradley came during a 2008 basketball camp in Philadelphia when Bradley was heading into his senior year of high school. One hundred of the best prep players were there to show off their best stuff, and hundreds of college coaches were there to watch it.
“Avery was picking up full court, every time,” Terry says. “By the second day, they said, ‘No more pressure.’ The guards couldn’t even bring the ball up the court.”
Some don’t dig his style. Orlando’s Jameer Nelson asked him to ease up in a game in February. Against Toronto in March, Bradley’s aggression made Sebastian Telfair lose his cool. Telfair was ejected after receiving two technical fouls.Continued...