- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Celtics missed Avery Bradley in the Eastern Conference finals against the Heat.The leap Avery Bradley made last season is remarkable considering he hasn’t had a real offseason in which to progress his game at the NBA level.
For three weeks in August we'll break up the summer doldrums by trying to predict exactly how the 2012-13 season will play out for the Boston Celtics.
After being drafted by Boston in 2010, Bradley underwent surgery to repair a chipped bone in his ankle, which prevented him from participating in summer league and much of training camp (immediately setting him back during a rookie season where he barely saw the floor). The lockout detoured him from a true offseason program last summer and, this year, he’s rehabbing from surgery to both shoulders.
And yet the 21-year-old Bradley was still able to make the monster jump from scared-to-be-on-the-floor freshman to usurping-a-Hall-of-Fame-shooting-guard sophomore last season. So what can he possibly do for an encore?
Our expectations are tempered by his health. The Celtics made a tough decision to shut him down during the Eastern Conference quarterfinals last season (and sorely missed his defensive talents in the conference finals against the Miami Heat), but the potential to further injure that shoulder -- and further set back his progress -- was too much to risk with a player on the rise.
For Bradley, it’s a bit like hitting the reset button this year. Even though he played well enough to retain that starting shooting guard spot, it’s likely that newcomer Courtney Lee will have the inside track on the starting gig due to Bradley’s health (even if he’s able to get on the floor for training camp).
Lee’s presence -- along with the addition of sixth man Jason Terry -- affords the Celtics the opportunity to bring Bradley back slowly. Even when he’s healthy enough to be on the floor, Boston can potentially utilize him in smaller chunks off the bench while he gets himself back to the level he was at by the end of the 2011-12 campaign.
If Bradley can simply return to that point at some point next season, he’s likely met expectations. It’s unreasonable to think his offensive game will pick up where it left off and it might take time to regain confidence in his jumper.
But if Bradley can provide his typical defensive efforts (more votes for the All-Defensive team are a reasonable expectation) and find points on the offensive end with his ability to move without the ball, then later in the season he’ll have the opportunity to take the next step in his development.
For a Celtics team that swears it would have gotten to the NBA Finals if Bradley had been healthy enough to help lockdown Dwyane Wade and the Heat, just having Bradley on the floor when the games matter most has to be their only expectation.
Read on for our panel predictions.
Greg Payne, ESPN Boston
The most important thing for Avery Bradley this season -- whenever he returns -- is consistency. He needs to build off of the stellar second half of last year's campaign and make that type of production the norm. At just 21, he still has a ways to go, but he proved last season that he's filled with talent. It's now just a matter of honing those abilities and turning into a complete player, and this coming season will serve as the next step in that pivotal process. His tenacity on the defensive end -- his most valuable skill -- isn't going anywhere, and he showed significant progress on the offensive end on numerous occasions last season (go back and watch the video of him dropping 28 points on the Hawks on April 20th. He showed a host of moves that day). With him gaining as much confidence and comfort as he did during his late-season blossoming, there's no reason to think he can't replicate that production, or something very close to it. Having said that, I don't think his starting job will be waiting for him, but it'll depend mainly on how well Courtney Lee is fitting in alongside Rajon Rondo and the first unit. If the C's are in a solid groove with Lee as the starting two-guard when Bradley comes back, I don't think Doc Rivers will mess with that (at least not right away), but that doesn't mean the door won't be open for Bradley to prove that he deserves to be back among the first five.
Ryan DeGama, CelticsHub
Bradley improved his PER by a factor of five from his rookie (2.23) to sophomore (11.31) campaign and still looked like he had considerable potential left to tap. It may not be realized in Year 3 because it’s impossible to gauge how his shoulders will hold up once he starts slamming into opposing guards and trying to repeat the form on his jumper. So, I’m trying to temper my expectations. If Bradley’s able to return to full health, I like him to step up into the league’s defensive elite. I also think he can make moderate leaps as a transition player, shooter and scorer, the latter of which is the most intriguing but least certain possibility. Of course, he won’t be 22 until late November, so if the Celtics are cautious with his post-recovery usage, we may have to wait until 2013-14 for these things. Which leads to my actual prediction for Bradley: reclamation of his starting spot by the All-Star game, a burgeoning rep as a spot-up shooter by season’s end, and a far more breathless predictions from me this time next summer.
Tommy King, Celtics Town
Given how well Avery Bradley played last season, he certainly earned a starting role this season. Unfortunately, after recovering from surgeries on both shoulders, Bradley will have to play his way back into the starting lineup, which I don't expect to happen. Bradley was arguably the best perimeter defender in the NBA last season (non-Andre Iguodala division) and the positive impact he had on both ends of the floor when he started has been well documented. Without an offseason to train, however, I expect Bradley's outside shooting to regress. Though he shot greater than 40 percent from beyond the arc last season, the sample size was small -- just 54 3-pointers attempted. Compare that to Courtney Lee who, in six fewer games, attempted 217 3-pointers. It's easy to forget the early season Bradley, who threatened front row fans with his errant shooting. Unable to commit his improved form to muscle memory, Bradley could struggle on offense upon his return. Surely, his defense will still be among the league's best, but it won't be enough of an upgrade over the underrated Lee to warrant a change to the starting lineup.
Brandon Paul, CLNS Radio
I expect Avery Bradley, whenever he returns to the court, to have the best year of his young career. Last season when he was placed into the starting lineup, Bradley surprised a lot of folks with his offensive abilities. There were never any questions regarding his defensive abilities, but his offensive outburst was a great surprise for many Celtics fans. His ability to move without the basketball and his quick cuts to the basket provided Rajon Rondo with another option on the offensive side of the floor. A year later, with more time in the system, more confidence, and more trust from his coach and teammates, Bradley can only continue to improve. Don't get me wrong, I don't expect him to become one of the team's primary offensive options, but I do believe he can tally a few 20-plus point efforts by sneaking up on opponents. Bradley will continue to make his largest impact on the defensive end of the floor, while pestering opposing guards.
Your turn: What are your expectations for Bradley? Sound off in the comments.