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Friday, January 20, 2012
Confidence check: Bradley eyes first start

By Chris Forsberg



WALTHAM, Mass. -- What's Avery Bradley's confidence level?

"Like on a scale of 1 to 3,000?," Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo cracked.

Well, sure. We've seen efforts like maybe Bradley's best game as a pro earlier this month against New Jersey in which his confidence looks like it's about a 2,875, and coach Doc Rivers is calling him Honey Badger for his don't-care defensive intensity. Then we see an effort like last Saturday's woeful seven minutes against Indiana in which his confidence looks like a 28.75 and his postgame Tweets potentially allude to frustration with his on-court play.

"I mean, he's a young guy -- that's pretty much all young players," Rondo said of his up-and-down confidence. "You play good some games, your confidence is high; you don't play well, you expect the worst. But right now, he's a pretty confident guy. He has a good supporting cast around him, and guys that believe in him, so he'll be fine."

With Rondo nursing a sore right wrist after a tumble in Wednesday's win over the Raptors and backup guard Keyon Dooling suffering a setback with a right knee injury that's kept him out for the past week, Bradley appears in line to log his first career start Friday night against the Phoenix Suns.

Bradley worked with the first unit during Thursday's practice session and, despite seemingly falling behind rookie E'Twaun Moore on Rivers' ever-shuffling depth chart, he's going to get valuable minutes Friday and a chance to assert himself again.

The second-year guard, who did not play against Oklahoma City on Monday, shined in 12 quality minutes against the Raptors on Wednesday, chipping in eight points and an assist. He admits the small doses of action put increased pressure on him to play error-free ball, but Bradley swears his confidence is growing.

"It’s hard because you have less room to make mistakes," he said. "When you get out there, you have to be efficient. I go so hard, but I try not to worry about it when I get in."

So where is his confidence level?

"It’s high," said Bradley. "Every time I get on the floor, what helps me is my defense. I just focus on not letting the team get a lead when going in, and I know that, when my name is called, I'm just going in and playing hard. That helps my confidence a lot."

Rondo delayed an MRI Thursday afternoon in order to be on the court and mentor both Bradley and Moore during Boston's brief practice session. The two young guards face a daunting challenge going against ageless Steve Nash when the Suns visit, but it'll be a good chance to gauge just how much of a defensive stopper Bradley can be. Rivers said both players have to bring a "defiant attitude."

That defiance will come from confidence. So, Coach, what's Bradley's confidence level right now?

"You never know -- in and out," said Rivers. "He’s struggling, obviously, with his shot. I just wish he’d stop thinking about that part of it, and just focus on, ‘I’m a great defensive player.’ I think the offense would come. I think he wants to be both right now, and there’s nothing wrong with that. You want him to think that. But, mentally, I think it hurts you."

The opportunity to play with the first unit should allow Bradley to thrive, much like other young players have done in similar situations (think Greg Stiemsma's first career start earlier this month). There's less of a need for Bradley to worry about his offense with the first unit and also provides quite the safety net behind him defensively.

Friday's effort could go a long way toward dictating whether Bradley is able to assert himself and start carving out a role. He seems aware that his success is attached to his defense.

"[The defense] lifts everyone’s energy," said Bradley. "You see [Kevin Garnett] and those guys, they go crazy when I’m picking people up full court, and so that’s all I think of. I keep that in the back of my head. If I go out here and I play hard on defense, everybody else is going to play harder."

Yes, that defense will ultimately dictate if Bradley's confidence is able to get back up to the 3,000 level.