The Charlotte Hornets lost their first game of the season last night to the Boston Celtics 104-98. As far as early games of the season go this was one of the higher quality games as the NBA still tries to shake off early year rust. Both the Celtics and Hornets had great execution, really good defense, and were very well coached throughout the game. It never felt like anybody had the edge until the Celtics managed to pull away late in the fourth quarter.. With games like this it’s hard to find what stands out more than others, but a quick look at the box score solves that problem very fast.
Avery Bradley had 31 points and 11 rebounds. An incredible stat line from the seventh year guard and a perfect example of the improvements he has made over the course of his career.
When Bradley entered the NBA as a rookie he came in while the Big Three Celtics were still the gatekeepers of the East. Nobody reached the finals without going through them. His role was a simple one. Bradley came off the bench, and gave whoever he was guarding absolute hell on defense. His style of defense can largely be summed up as what Boston’s perimeter looks like now, and that’s one of annoyance. They get up in you, harass ball handlers and shooters forcing them to work the entire duration of a possession. Just watching them is annoying, and playing them must be even worse as they force a lot of turnovers and constantly get out and run. This style fits the type of player Bradley is perfectly, and the Hornets did not just adjust very well to it. They constantly looked uncomfortable and that may be what explains the 28 percent 3-point percentage from deep.
As Bradley continued his NBA career the Celtics began a fire sale of their roster for assets and talent. It was at this point that they began to experiment with Bradley running him at point guard, and letting him be the main distributor. It didn’t work out very well on the surface, but what it did do was improve Bradley’s ability to create for himself and as he moved over to the two guard spot he became a better individual scorer. By his fourth season Bradley was attempting double digit attempts per game and causing teams problems with his newly awakened scoring ability. For Charlotte, they faced the full brunt of this last night in the form of 30 points. This is a Boston team with a decent amount of weapons to choose from, with Al Horford and Isaiah Thomas being the big ones to focus on. This has given Bradley the perfect role. As the third option the defense doesn’t focus entirely on him, and he takes advantage of those weak points to get buckets. Last night, as Charlotte rotated to defend guys it was Bradley that consistently burned them on that second or third rotation. He caught the defense off guard and make quick work of it.
Where Bradley has really improved the most over his career is 3-point shooting. In his first two years in the NBA he attempted less than one per game from deep. Last season he attempted 5.4 per game while shooting 36 percent. He is a legit deep ball threat at this point, and last night Bradley burned the Hornets with eight makes from behind the arc. He was a force of nature that punished Charlotte for going under screens. While the Hornets made runs and kept it close despite shooting struggles, they were unable to slow down Bradley’s scoring attack.
Last night, the years of improvement for Avery Bradley shone through and it bit the Hornets in the butt. There was a time in his career where Bradley was in every single trade rumor that involved the Celtics. Now? He might be a player they can’t afford to let go even if it means taking away minutes from youth on their roster such as Marcus Smart. He’s that important to their team, and last night he burnt the Hornets bad.