When the Lakers elected to guarantee Avery Bradley’s contract for the rest of the year last week, it was an acknowledgement of how integral they feel he’s become for this team’s defensive identity.
The Lakers may only be slightly better defensively (and worse overall) with Bradley on the floor than they are when he’s off, per NBA.com, but those season-long metrics are skewed by Bradley often starting and guarding opponents’ best scorers, and from him being healthy during an earlier portion of the season when LeBron James was not.
Ask his teammates and coaches, and they’ll tell you that the Bradley they see every day is a player who has earned a starting spot, one who metrics can’t capture the full impact of.
“Tenacity is contagious. Intensity and playing hard is contagious, and knowing that you’re OK on a certain matchup when elite offensive guards are coming here, it’s almost necessary. You want to say it’s a great luxury, but really, to win in this league, it’s necessary to have somebody that can hold his own — and then some — against some of the elite guards that you’re seeing on a night-in, night-out basis,” said Lakers head coach Frank Vogel. “Avery brings great value in that regard.”
“He’s just a true professional,” LeBron added. “That’s a guy who knows exactly what his role is, and he never steps outside of that. He never tries to do too much, he never tries to do something he can’t do, and he literally gets the most out of what he does every single night.”
Before Bradley arrived on the Lakers after being cut by the Golden State Warriors, it wasn’t clear he could still do any of those things at the NBA level. He shot below 40% from the field, and made just 33 of his 101 3-point attempts. He wasn’t helping much on the other end, either, as according to Basketball-Reference, Bradley posted negative marks in VORP, defensive box plus-minus and win shares per 48 minutes in his one season away from the Lakers last year.
It was a steep drop off for Bradley, who spent the pre-bubble 2019-10 regular season in purple and gold, helping the Lakers get the No. 1 seed, but opting out of the playoffs due to concern for the health of his young son.
But after a strong training camp with the Warriors this year — after which Draymond Green and Stephen Curry lobbied to keep him, to no avail — Bradley hit the ground running in Los Angeles, reunited with a superstar he knows how to fit alongside in James, and a coach who has always been his staunchest advocate.
Bradley says the situation in Los Angeles this season is obviously different than the one he left, but he still feels that his familiarity with James and this team allowed him to acclimate more quickly than he may have otherwise.
“It’s a lot different. But defense for me is always effort. The entire coaching staff does a great job of putting us in the right position. It’s our job to go out there and make sure we’re watching the edits before the game to prepare for the game, and then going out there and playing with effort,” Bradley said. “If we can do that, I feel like we give ourselves a chance every single night.”
“But credit to Russell Westbrook and LeBron,” Bradley added. “They’re making the game a lot easier for me. I’m able to cut, I’m able to shoot open threes, whatever it is. I’m just trying to play as hard as I can and whatever shots may come, I’m trying to knock them down.”
Bradley is shooting 39.7% from three this season, the second-highest percentage of his career after making 40.7% of his triples a decade earlier in Boston. And while defenses may not be flocking to close out on him at the expense of helping down on James and Westbrook’s drives, Bradley is making enough open looks to make defenses pay for that oversight. It’s allowed him to credibly space the floor in the team’s newer, smaller starting lineup, even if James says that Bradley’s shooting isn’t what’s most important anyway.
“For us, it’s never about him making shots. He brings a defensive intensity that everybody just feeds off of,” James said. “We always want him to be more aggressive offensively because he shoots the ball extremely well, but it’s just a treat to have him.”
It’s why the team will be keeping him around for the rest of the year.
“He’s played extremely well for us, has earned a starting role by bringing that defensive presence, but also playing really well offensively,” Vogel said. “I’m happy to see him get his deal guaranteed.”
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