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Why Avery Bradley’s health will be integral for him to return to All-Defensive form

Avery Bradley has seen his defense suffer immensely the past three seasons. I took a look at the potential root causes and noticed a distinct trend with a recent slew of injuries.

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Memphis Grizzlies v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

The Lakers signed former Memphis Grizzlies guard Avery Bradley to the room exception for two years and $9.6 million as the team continues to fill out its roster and shore up weaknesses.

Bradley is well-renowned for his smothering, physical, aggressive defense, in particular from his tenure with the Boston Celtics. However, there was concern with his signing from some in the fanbase because his defensive form has taken a steep decline, which is particularly borne out by his defensive real plus-minus (DRPM) for the past three seasons:

  • 2016-17: -1.72 (traded from Boston to Detroit after this season)
  • 2017-18: -0.53 (traded from Detroit to the Clippers)
  • 2018-19: -1.26 (traded from the Clippers to Memphis)

It’s natural for a player to lose a step or two defensively as they get older with the constant wear and tear of the NBA, but Bradley is just 28 years old. That would be a really early decline, which led me to consider a few other variables that may have led to his drop in play.

You can make an argument that switching teams three times in three years and the adjustment that comes with that could be part of the issue, particularly for a defender like Bradley who was at his best in an aggressive, perimeter attacking style with Boston.

However, after taking a look at Bradley’s injury history over those same three years, his recent injury history may be more to blame for his defensive woes than anything else.

Here’s a quick rundown of those injuries:

2016-2017 season

  • A strained achilles caused Bradley to miss 16 straight games, and 20-21 games total. Further, achilles injuries are notoriously sensitive with discomfort that can last for months.

2017-2018 season

  • Bradley suffered a strained right adductor (one of the groin muscles) on Dec. 15, with constant soreness through February that eventually led to a sports hernia surgery that ended his 2017-2018 season.

2018-2019 season

  • Bradley dealt with ankle sprains and residual soreness in October, February, and March
  • He also had knee soreness that was first officially listed** in February, and continued to bother him throughout March.*
  • Bradley’s right wrist soreness was first listed** in March and bothered him for the rest of that month.

**When it comes to soreness, it’s more common than not that the player has been dealing with it on a milder level for an ongoing period of time but it’s not listed until it gets more serious and overtly hinders function.

In totality, that’s a series of lower body injuries along the entire lower-body kinetic chain. Each would impact movement and explosiveness in multiple directions, particularly the adductor strain and sports hernia which are stressed during each and every basketball movement because of their central location at the hips and core.

Such a set of injuries would hinder any player but even more so a player like Avery Bradley who relies on defensive leverage, lateral foot speed, quick hips, and extremely quick hands (likely impacted by that wrist soreness) defensively. Just take a look at these highlights:

Moving forward, Judy Seto and the training staff will be integral to Bradley’s health and performance with Lakers management leaning heavily on her expertise. His contract may have raised some eyebrows, but if Bradley can return and remain at full health to return to his previous defensive form, it will go a long ways towards shoring up the Lakers wing coverage and potentially turn his contract into one of the best values of the summer.

Dr. Rajpal Brar has a doctorate in physical therapy from Northern Arizona University, and runs his own sports medicine and performance business, 3CB Performance, in West LA and Valencia, CA. He also works at a hospital — giving him experience with patients in the immediate healthcare setting and neurological patients (post stroke, post brain injury) — and has been practicing for 1.5 years. Brar is additionally training at UCLA’s mindful awareness research center (MARC), and analyzes the Lakers from a medical perspective for Silver Screen and Roll.

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