Two years ago, Avery Bradley was one of the most feared perimeter defenders in the NBA on a Boston Celtics team that made the Eastern Conference Finals. And while he still may have been respected amongst his peers during that time, his production on the defensive end had fallen off, not that you could tell from the first four days of Los Angeles Lakers training camp.
“It’s to the point where coach said ‘if you’ve got the ball (near him), just pass it.’ He’s very special on the defensive end,” said Anthony Davis, Bradley’s new Lakers teammate.
That talent hasn’t shined through as well in recent seasons. Since the 2017-18 season, Bradley hasn’t posted a defensive rating under 110, meaning opponents have scored at least that many points per 100 possessions while he’s been on the floor. Through 49 games with the Clippers last season, he posted a team-worst defensive rating of 116.
Bradley showed signs of life on the offensive end during his 14-game stint with the Memphis Grizzlies — averaging 16.1 points per game — he still struggled to find his footing on the defensive end, posting a defensive rating of 112.
For context, that’s on par with the type of defensive production Carmelo Anthony showed in his 10 games with the Houston Rockets.
Suffice to say, Bradley has something to prove with the Lakers this season, and he’s gotten off on the right foot at training camp.
On Sunday, Vogel said that Bradley was “the guy that everybody’s talking about,” and the same held true after practice on Tuesday. When Anthony Davis was asked what has stood out about the guards on the team in scrimmages so far, he answered without hesitation: “Avery.”
“I’ve seen Avery play defense from afar, but to see it every day, the way he gets after it and competes is pretty special. He can really guard the ball,” Davis said.
Bradley hears all the praise, and he’s appreciative of it, but he doesn’t want to look too much into what it might mean for his season.
“It means a lot. It’s just the beginning, we’re all taking this one day at a time,” Bradley said. “I think that’s the main key, us not getting ahead of ourselves, just taking it one day at a time. But it has been a good camp for me.”
He also doesn’t think the attention should be solely on him.
“I’m happy because I put in a lot of work this summer, but it’s not about me. It’s about the team and I’m going to see what position coach puts us in, and I’m going to be prepared for whatever position it is,” Bradley said.
With all the praise Bradley is getting, he’s probably the favorite to earn a starting spot in the backcourt alongside Danny Green. If Bradley returns to form, that pairing could give the Lakers one of the best defensive backcourts in the league.
Whether Bradley starts or not, though, he believes that defense will be a big part of the Lakers’ identity this season.
“I think that’s the strength of our team. We have a lot of guys, our team is very deep and I think it just depends on which lineup coach wants to put out there, and us all buying into our role,” Bradley said.
“But like I said, my role is to go out there and play defense at a high level every single night, and that’s what I’m going to try to do. We have shooters — Quinn Cook is a very good player — and we have a lot of guys that have shown different things throughout camp,” Bradley said. “I’m pretty sure coach has been able to notice that and we just all have to take full advantage of every opportunity.”
Vogel will experiment with different lineups before and during their slate of preseason games starting Saturday, but at this point, it would surprising to see Bradley not get the starting nod at opening night.