When Avery Bradley signed a two-year, $9.7 million deal with the Lakers over the summer, there was no confusion on what his role would be. His job would be essentially the same one he has been tasked with over the course of the last decade — to make life miserable for the opposition.
While the actuality of Bradley’s effectiveness on defense over the course of his career has been the source of debate and skepticism, it’s difficult to argue that he has not at least played a part in what has been a stellar start on the defensive end for Los Angeles.
As of this article, the Lakers sit first in the league in terms of defensive rating (allowing just 97.9 points per 100 possessions) and third (99.6) when filtering out garbage time. Those are impressive ranks many would have found difficult to be achievable this early considering that the Lakers possess a nearly entirely new roster, coaching staff and have gone up against a tough schedule.
Bradley, who has started in the backcourt in six of the team’s seven games (missing the squad’s contest in Chicago due to a leg injury that has left him “questionable” for Friday) has been one of the tone-setters on that end, a responsibility and mentality the 28-year-old sounds dedicated to maintaining.
“My mindset going into every game is to go out there and challenge myself up against the best player on the other team,” Bradley told reporters after Thursday’s practice. “Try to make them work for every single possession.
“I know that’s my role on this team, and I know I’m going to bring it every single night,” Bradley continued, before quickly correcting himself on that last part. “Every single possession.”
During the infant stages of the new season, Bradley has been given the chance to back up his words on the court, as he appears to be coach Frank Vogel’s go-to option on the perimeter.
Against the Jazz, Bradley was tasked with checking Donovan Mitchell for 44% of his offensive possessions. Then against Dallas, Bradley was glued to Luka Doncic a whopping 57.9% of his time on the floor. Both register as the highest marks on the team, according to the NBA’s matchup data.
While individually once again seeing a variance between the eye-test and the numbers (according to three different site’s data points, the Lakers’ defense has essentially been the same with Bradley off the court as it is when he is on, although that could have something to do with him mostly going up against opposing starters) there is little denying that his effort level has been an encouraging constant.
Whether it’s picking up full-court or aggressively pressuring (sometimes to his detriment) opposing ball-handlers at the point of attack, Bradley’s approach has up to this point had a positive trickle-down effect on the team.
As comfortable as the veteran has felt in his role on the defensive end, he says he has also at times been asked to branch out on offense. Mainly by taking on a portion of the team’s ball-handling and creation duties, given the Lakers’ current lack of consistent playmaking outside of LeBron James.
It’s been a new-ish experience Bradley is openly welcoming at this stage of his career.
“I think it’s a fun challenge. As professional athletes, we want to always grow, and this is an opportunity for me to grow my game,” Bradley said.
“A lot of the credit goes to coach, and to my teammates for giving me that confidence,” Bradley continued. “It’s just making it a natural transition for me. I’m happy with the success that we’ve been able to have as a team and I’m happy that coach trusts me enough to give me those opportunities.”
Thus far, the guard has not yet seen a major statistical uptick in terms of these on-ball responsibilities. On the season, Bradley’s buckets have been assisted on 78% of the time, according to Cleaning the Glass, which would be a career high. He has also only registered four assists (10th on the team) during his 167 minutes on the floor, as well as being utilized mainly in spot-up chances (28.3% of the time). It’s possible he was referring to being asked to handle the ball some, but ball pressure has mostly forced him to give up the rock to another creator in such scenarios.
So while it’s unlikely Bradley will ever fully transform into the type of on-ball creator the team needs, he has still mostly been the player many hoped he would be within the first weeks of the season. Which is ultimately the role he’s best suited for, and the one the team needs him to excel in.
Bradley is not a player without flaws. He is however, a hard-nosed and reliable guard, one who — if nothing else — plays within himself and his role. A combination of attributes that the Lakers are thus far reaping the benefits from.
All stats and video per NBA.com unless otherwise noted. You can follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexmRegla. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts.