EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — On one of the first glimpses the media was given of the Los Angeles Lakers scrimmaging on their first day of training camp, Avery Bradley was hounding Rajon Rondo with hellacious fervor.
Rondo turned his back to keep Bradley at bay before JaVale McGee was called for a moving screen trying to pry Bradley loose. The next possession, Rondo took one dribble forward and Bradley knocked the ball out of bounds. Finally, on the next play, LeBron James mercifully came outside the 3-point line to save Rondo, taking the ball on a dribble hand-off. Bradley switched onto James, hounding him into the paint as confidently as he had chased Rondo before helping force a miss.
It was just one sequence, and no one is going to vote Bradley All-Defense First Team for making dribbling hard on a 33-year-old Rajon Rondo, but Lakers head coach Frank Vogel says that Bradley’s unshakeable presence has been the prevailing theme of the first two days of training camp.
Even with the excitement over Anthony Davis and James’ long-awaited pairing, Bradley has been the one that’s stood out.
“He’s the guy that everybody’s talking about,” Vogel said. “When you’ve got two of the best players in the world competing together and all anybody is talking about is Avery Bradley’s tenaciousness, that speaks volumes about what he’s been able to show in the first couple of days.”
The Lakers will have to hope Bradley can keep this up, because entering the year, he’s one of the team’s X-Factors. When the Lakers signed Bradley to their full room exception of two years, $9.7 million, it was a major vote of confidence that general Rob Pelinka’s former client from his days as a sports agent could bounce back after a rough few years.
At just 28 years old, it’s not out of the question that Bradley could do so. Bradley’s struggles to start the season with the L.A. Clippers last year were well-documented, but in 14 games with the Memphis Grizzlies last season, he showed what could have been the start of a turnaround, averaging 16.1 points and shooting 38.4 percent from behind the arc.
Vogel said Bradley has been continuing to shoot well through two days of scrimmages, but at Lakers Media Day, Bradley told reporters that it’s the other end of the floor that he’s hoping to make his biggest impact.
“Each and every night, every opportunity I get, I’m going to try to prove and show the world that I’m the best perimeter defender in the NBA,” Bradley said.
It’s been a few years since Bradley was anywhere near in consideration for that title, but the good news is that the Lakers don’t need him to be. Outside of Alex Caruso, the Lakers don’t really have strong defenders at point guard.
Vogel said that the Lakers don’t see Bradley as a point guard — they view him as more of a combo guard who can handle some secondary ballhandling duties — but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he can’t guard point guards with James handling some more of the ballhandling duties, a popular suggestion ever since an offseason report that James would start at the one.
Bradley, who says he’s finally “100 percent” healthy from years of accumulating injuries, might finally be ready to get back to his prior form on defense. Vogel says Bradley has been “in the face” of anyone who has the basketball, and he still remembers what a fully healthy and optimized Bradley was like as an opposing coach.
“I’d say ‘don’t dribble the ball. If Avery is on you, just pass the ball, give it up, because you’re not going anywhere off the bounce with Avery Bradley on you,’” Vogel said.
If Bradley can get back to that level again — which could low-key be one of the biggest “ifs” facing the Lakers this season — then he just might be exactly the type of player this team needs, the superglue to make some of their stranger lineups work. It could even result in a starting spot, but Bradley isn’t concerning himself with that. He just wants to play a meaningful part for a winning team again, whatever that means, and he’s leaving it all out on the floor in training camp as a result.
“I’m just focused on whatever my role is, making sure I take advantage of it,” Bradley told reporters on Media Day. “I don’t know if I’m going to start, come off the bench or not even play. But I do know that whatever opportunity I’m given, I’m going to take advantage of it.”
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.