Bradley's decision to go pro paying off

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Bradley's decision to go pro paying off

TORONTO For elite college basketball players, March Madness is often followed by April Agony with many unsure whether to take their talents to the NBA or stay in college.

Avery Bradley has been there, done that.

He left the University of Texas after one season, a decision that at the time was viewed as questionable.

Even after the Boston Celtics took him in the first round of the 2010 NBA draft, there were still questions about whether he left too soon.

Those questions today?

Nowhere to be found, with Bradley establishing himself as one of the emerging talents in the NBA whose play has been one of the keys to the Celtics' surge to the top of the Atlantic Division.

Injuries, more than anything else, buried him on the C's bench as a rookie.

But in this his first healthy season, Bradley is proving that he belongs in the NBA now - something he was confident about when he decided to leave school early.

"I feel it was more so about my family," Bradley told CSNNE.com. "Not only that, I was ready to take my game to the next level. I feel one-year, two years, three years, if you feel like you're ready to go, you should go. That's what it was for me. I was ready."

Bradley fully expected to have his ups and downs as an NBA rookie, but trouble began before he was drafted when he suffered a chipped bone in his ankle during a pre-draft workout.

"Oh, I was nervous," Bradley said when he learned of the injury. "But I still had confidence in myself. Like I said, it really doesn't matter what anybody else thinks. It's up to you and your family. You need to make the best decision for you and your family, nobody else. "

Far removed from his days leading up to the draft, Bradley still has vivid memories of being drafted by the Celtics as well as his first days inside the C's locker room.

"The first time I got here, I was nervous walking into that locker room with Shaq and Ray Allen, guys that I grew up watching play," Bradley admitted.

Although he didn't play much, Bradley made a point of listening to everything - EVERYTHING - that the veterans who were playing, would say to him.

During time-outs during games, you would often find Bradley during his rookie season listening in to head coach Doc Rivers giving instructions to the players about to head back on the floor. During the game, he could often be found chatting with his older teammates, guards and big men alike.

And this past summer, he spent some time with Rivers with the goal being to develop a better repoire so that this season, Rivers would feel more comfortable with him both as a player and as a person.

"A lot of people say I'm mature for my age," said Bradley, 21. "I think it comes from them, being around them, being professional, learning how to do the right things, play the right way."

Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey is among the (growing) list of folks impressed with Bradley's play and the impact he has made on a Celtics team that's loaded with seasoned, Hall-of-Fame bound veterans.

And while Casey recognizes and appreciates Bradley's play, he believes having those veterans around have also helped his transition from being a first-round pick on a veteran, to an NBA starter.

"The veterans have given him confidence," Casey said. "He took the opportunity, and this league is about opportunity. If you get a chance to step out there and play, he's done that. I'm happy for the young man just not tonight."

Bradley's play has been instrumental in a Celtics unit ratcheting up their play defensively to a level that has caught the league totally off-guard.

"They're two pit bulls," Casey said of Bradley teaming up with Rajon Rondo in the backcourt.

And Bradley has emerged lately as being more than just a tough defender.

"Before you could go under on him in pick and rolls," Casey said. "Now he's knocking down everything. They're playing like a well-oiled machine right now, playing together, playing with a sense of purpose, urgency."

And while most see Bradley as simply making the most of his chance to play, there's more to his emergence than being in the right place at the right time. Hours spent after practice working on his game, hours spent before listening to coaches, being part of the scout team, listening to those around him give him encouragement, advice it all brought Bradley to where he's at now - an NBA starter for one of the hottest teams in the NBA.

And it all came about because Bradley ignored conventional wisdom, and did what all NBA players do - he went with his instincts and entered the NBA draft.

"That's why it doesn't really matter what anybody else thinks. When people are coming out the draft, you don't worry about anyone but yourself and your family," Bradley reiterated. "Right now, I just worry about my team and how I can play and help them and help us win. Starting now, I don't worry about scoring or anything other than what can I do to help my team win. At the end of the day, people won't see the little things that your teammates see and know. I play for my teammates. As long as they see what I'm doing, how hard I'm working, that's all I care about."

Blakely's five throughts from the Green and White Scrimmage

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Blakely's five throughts from the Green and White Scrimmage

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BOSTON – As has been customary with the Celtics in recent years, their open practice on Friday night featured a pair of 10-minute scrimmages pitting the “Green” team of starters against the “White” team of reserves.
 
The White team, which apparently has been kicking the Green team’s butt for a good chunk of camp, emerged with a 33-26 win. And the Green team had to rally to win the second scrimmage, 24-18.

Similar to summer league, you can’t read too much into what happened and what didn’t happen on Friday night.
 
That said, there were a number of clear and undeniable positives for the Celtics to take from the game and hopefully build upon them going forward.
 
 
5. Al Horford's leadership established
 
The first player’s voice that the 6,000-plus fans at the TD Garden heard from was Al Horford and don’t think for a minute that was just happenstance.
 
For all the scoring and rebounding and defending that the Celtics will look for Horford to do, it is his ability to lead this team that separates him from most of his NBA brethren.
 
The fact that he’s a four-time All-Star speaks to what he has done in this league as a player. But even more telling is that was the fact that he’s been to the playoffs every year he has been in the NBA. And during that span of nine years, he has been pivotal in leading Atlanta beyond the first round – a primary goal for him and the Celtics this season – five times.
 
 
4. Celtics defense could be an elite unit this season
 
The Celtics were a top-10 defensive team last season, and have every reason to believe that they’ll be even better now. Boston has a trio of Pit Bull-like defenders on the perimeter in Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier and All-NBA first team defender Avery Bradley. Throw in Jae Crowder’s defensive versatility at the wing along with a pair of upper echelon rim-protectors in Amir Johnson and Al Horford and the Celtics no longer are a team that can put a couple good defenders on the floor at one time. They actually have the depth now to go with a ‘Big’ all-defensive team or a ‘small ball’ all-defensive team which provides the kind of versatility that should result in Boston being a top-3 defensive team this season.
 
 
3. Marcus Smart poised for breakout season
 
Smart seemed about as comfortable as we’ve seen him on Friday, showcasing his range as a shooter while still being able to get after it defensively. Based on what he has done in terms of improving his game, Smart seems more likely to play off the ball than on it. With his size, strength, athleticism and ability to defend multiple positions that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If Boston does indeed have one of those magical-type seasons, Smart is a player that has the potential to help significantly. He understands the Celtics’ system inside and out, and is doing what young players on the rise should do – show growth as a player.
 
 
2. James Young playing best basketball at right time
 
These are some pretty stressful times for James Young, but you wouldn’t know it by the extremely cool demeanor he has exuded. Although it has only been a few short days of training camp, James Young has stepped up his game knowing anything less than his best could result in him being waived and potentially on his way out of the NBA. During the first Green-White scrimmage on Friday night, Danny Ainge said there were five guys essentially fighting for two roster spots. He didn’t single out Young specifically, but it’s no secret that the 21-year-old who is heading into third NBA season is among the players in that group. To Young's credit, he's doing a lot of those little things such as playing solid defense, getting deflections and making "hockey assists" to show he belongs in the NBA and more significantly, should remain a Celtic. 
  
1. Terry Rozier's tremendous strides
 
Rozier was the star of the two scrimmages the Celtics put on in front of about 6,000 people at the TD Garden Friday night. He scored, got assists, rebounded … he did it all. What impressed me the most about him was his defense on Isaiah Thomas. Rozier loves Thomas and respects the hell out of him. But Rozier  has made no secret about wanting to get more playing time this year, and is out to snatch some of the minutes from anyone ahead of him, Thomas included. We saw the tenacious potential Rozier has as an on-the-ball defender, but he seems to have taken that up a notch from his rookie season. And the confidence he has in his shot-making is undeniable. We saw that in summer league and it’s good to see that he brought it with him into training camp. Ditto for his decision-making and leading of the team at the point which are also areas in which he has improved but still needs to continue to get better at on a more consistent basis. There’s no doubt at this point Rozier will play this season and likely get a lion’s share of the minutes vacated by Evan Turner’s departure to Portland.