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2017-18 Player Preview: Pistons need Bradley to live up to defensive reputation

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And to stay on the court.

Christopher Daniels

Los Angeles Lakers’ shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.....” still sounds awkward, doesn’t it? The Pistons—seemingly bidding against only themselves—rushed to sign Langston Galloway in the early stages of free agency essentially putting the kibosh on any chance of re-signing KCP.

As DBB scratched their collective heads as to why Detroit would hard cap themselves, Stan Van G and the boys were engaged in behind the scenes talks with the Boston Celtics. In an effort to lure Gordon Hayward away from the Utah Jazz, the Celtics needed to shed a bit of salary and as we’ve learned, teams tinkering with their financials is music to SVB’s ears.

Eventually, talks led to firm handshakes and Marcus Morris (along with a 2019 2nd round draft pick) was sent to Boston in return for Avery Bradley giving Boston the green light to pursue Hayward.

We all (for the most part) hated to see Caldwell-Pope leave but Avery Bradley fills those shoes in BASF fashion by not only doing everything KCP does but by doing everything KCP does better. Both are recognized for being aggressive on-ball defenders with three-point shooting capabilities but Bradley is objectively the superior player.

In Detroit, he’ll have the freedom to grow as a player and a leader that may not have been readily available in Boston. The tradeoff being the opportunity pertains to a playoff hopeful instead of a conference contender.

Season in review

In many ways, Avery Bradley’s last season in a Celtics’ uniform was a career year. Per game-highs in points, rebounds, three-pointers made and assists combined with his usual hawk-like on-ball defense made the eight million dollar price tag an absolute asset for Boston.

Sounds great, right?!

The drawback being: injury. Time was lost mostly due to an achilles strain and in total, he only played in 55 games. Unfortunately for Bradley, missing extended periods of time isn’t unique to the 2016-17 season. His seven-year games played column reads 31, 64, 50, 60, 77, 74 and last year’s 55.

Bradley’s sketchy availability is compounded by the perpetual health concerns of point guard Reggie Jackson. Holding your breath each time one of these players takes a hit could signal a long, emotionally draining season for Pistons’ fans.

One big question

Will he re-sign with the Pistons?

First and foremost, the best way to re-sign Bradley in the summer of 2018 is to win more than you lose during 2017-18. Re-establishing a winning basketball culture with Bradley in the thick of the turnaround would go a long way in making Detroit a place he could feel comfortable growing old with (isn’t that what we’re all looking for?).

The Pistons should give him every opportunity to shine by showcasing him on offense and turning him loose on defense. When he first entered the league in 2010, the Celtics were still lead by the Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce with AB as an afterthought. Then came the Brad Stevens era in 2013 followed by the acquisition of Isaiah Thomas a year later. Point is, he’s never been in a situation where his fingerprints could have such an impact as the circumstances in Detroit have dictated.

Detroit owns Bradley’s Bird rights which will give them a chance to spend north of Fort Knox’s gold reserve and should the Pistons right the ship this year, it’s hard to imagine Bradley jumping ship. Stan Van Gundy doesn’t seem to be worried. The free-flowing of money spent on free agents in summers’ past might be curtailed as the salary cap plateaus which should favor the Pistons’ chances of re-signing Bradley too.

Projected role

It’s not crazy to consider Bradley the Pistons’ best player from the minute he steps onto the court. Debatable at worst but he’s certainly the best two-way player on the roster meaning Detroit will lean on Bradley for steady production whether he’s considered the best player or not.

His offense is a second banana talking point when compared to the other side of the ball but for the bucket-getting-challenged Pistons, it’s just as significant.

Bradley is very much a north-and-south ball handler as there aren’t a whole lot of wasted dribbles or herky-jerky moves. Get from Point A to Point B with the least amount of detours as possible seems like the goal.

In Detroit, he’ll be asked to lead the PNR, catch-and-shoot and present a PowerPoint presentation to the team on how to move without the ball:

Avery Bradley: So, that wraps it up, any questions? Yes, you in the back....

Stanley Johnson: This is freaking me out, can you spell it again?

Avery Bradley: C-U-T.

For better or worse, AB loves his mid-range shots and it’s hard to imagine anything will change now that he’s in a Pistons’ uniform. A Bradley led PNR is almost guaranteed to end in a one or two dribble pullup jumper:

If that mid-range is in and around the elbow, we’re in business. Efficiency wise, things get shakier as he gets closer to the baseline. Throwing a bit more cold water on the AB lovefest, he tends to settle for the jumper too much instead of attacking the basket:

I’d be surprised if that tendency wasn’t neatly packed in the suitcase and headed for his new home in Detroit too. In fact, it happens so much I’ve already completed a rough draft of my first comment for DBB message board addressing the topic (including how it would obviously help getting to the line more) .

Most offenses in the NBA have similar sets and schemes and depending on the talent of the team some sets get focused on more than others. One of the biggest differences (among many) between Detroit and Boston was the passing and playmaking ability of Al Horford when compared to anyone on Detroit’s front line. Horford averaged five dimes (which is insane to think about) per game last year and assisted on Bradley field goals more than anyone else in Celtics’ green. The gravity of Horford’s ball handling made catch-and-shoot attempts a walk in the park:

Yeah, we don’t one of those fancy passing bigs.

What we do have are similar places on the court that Bradley should be accustom to:

(I apologize for that last one, it was a cheap shot.)

Integrating Avery Bradley into Detroit’s offense shouldn’t be a problem and as mentioned earlier, he’s fantastic moving without the ball.

There are two types of cuts in basketball: scheme made and man made.

A scheme made cut involves putting players in a position to take advantage of Monta Ellis shitty defenders:

Above, the defender bites on the handoff and proper spacing invites the backdoor cut. Easy enough.

A man made cut is simply playing hoops. No one tells you to cut, it’s not in the playbook, it’s BBIQ:

Bradley excels in both while—last year at least—the Pistons were stuck in cement boots on offense. The man made cut is innate and included in the deal. It’s going to be up to SVG, however, to create a bit more spicy spacing to take advantage of the scheme cut.


Bradley’s traditional defensive numbers are pedestrian. His six rebounds per game average from last year was more or less tied to “bigs box and wings crash” philosophy Boston subscribed to and probably won’t translate in Detroit.

So is Avery Bradley an elite defender?

Eye test screams YES but defensive analytics and metrics might have you believe otherwise. Bradley checks in at 417th place on ESPN’s DRPM, just below defensive stopper Nick Young. Head over to basketball-reference.com and you’ll see—supposedly—the Celtics were a better team defensively when Bradley was off the court.

Are we being sold a bill of goods? Is it too late to get Mook back?

It won’t take too many defensive possessions for you to determine those numbers mentioned above are completely useless. Bradley will make this team better by setting a relentless tone the likes of which hasn’t been seen in Detroit since the Going to Work crew.

The vaunted tone setter - cliché much? What does that even mean?

It means not dying in the pick-and-roll:

It means fighting for position in the post:

It means making guys work just to catch the ball:

It means owning complete awareness:

If you thought KCP was a good defender—which he was—you’ll love Avery Bradley.

Bradley isn’t perfect and at six-foot-two he can get taken advantage of, especially closer to the basket. It’s easy to cherry pick steals and hustle plays like above but it would be impossible to create a lowlight reel of Bradley sulking. There will be times he gets beat or collects a dumb foul but it won’t be due to a lack of effort.

Will that effort be contagious to the rest of his teammates?