One of my favorite things about the New Year is that we all get a much-needed break from lists. From the "Best of" and "Worst of" everything, and the entire Internet cramming a years worth of material into a weeklong string of slide shows.
Although, these days I guess its always slide show season. Theres never a bad time to slap together a list. As we speak, interns everywhere are already hard at work on "The Best Sports Moments in Martin Luther King Day History." Its going to be awesome! But in the meantime, I want to take one more second to quickly reflect on last year. On, without question, one of the most surprising and essential developments of 2012 (at least in the Boston sports world), and one that didnt receive all that much attention during last weeks Year in Review Listravanganza.
The emergence of Avery Bradley.
Its easy to misremember now, but this time last year, Avery Bradley was a bust. He was considered another Danny Ainge swing and miss. Another draft pick that Celtics fans could look back on and say, Yup. They blew it. No wonder this team is screwed.
He was J.R. Giddens.
But today, Bradley is Joe Dumars. AVERY BRADLEY IS A GOD. Hes . . . OK, Im probably understating things a little. But my point is that no one saw this coming no one (at least on the outside) imagined that Bradley would improve as much and as quickly as he did. And over these last two months, weve gotten a glimpse at just how screwed the Celtics would have been if Bradley had continued along the path to one day co-starring with Giddens in Poland.
So what happened? How did we get here? Eh, thats not nearly as important as the fact that we are here. That tonight at the Garden, Bradley rejoins the Celtics line-up for the first time in more than seven months the first time since Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against Philly and has an opportunity to jump start the season; to rescue Boston from the depths of lottery hell and restore the belief that theyre worthy of an eventual rematch with the Heat.
And you know what? I think he's going to do it.
I think that three months from now, we'll look back at tonight's game as the turning point in the Celtics season. As the moment everything started to make sense. Ironically (I think?), I also imagine the Celtics will lose tonight. Certainly if Rondo sits. But that's OK, because Bradley still needs time. No one expects him to take the court against the Grizzlies and pick up right where he left off as one of the most instrumental and perfectly complimentary shooting guards in the entire league.
I'm sure some people will find that last part ridiculous, but those people forget how effective Bradley was down the stretch last season. That over 15 games in April (after officially reclaiming the starting two spot), Bradley averaged 15.1 points a night, shot .520 from the field and .545 from three point land. That more often than not, he was and will continue to be the most dominant defensive player on the floor. That he's egoless, a guy who doesn't need plays run for him, and LOVES moving without the ball. That last season, the Celtics were 20-8 in games started by Bradley and 19-19 when he came off the bench. That even in the playoffs, as Bradley played through two bad shoulders, the Celtics offensive rating was 105.9 with AB on the court and 98.8 with him on the bench. That their defensive rating 90.2 with him on the court and 103.1 with him on the bench. That, bottom line: He makes the Celtics a better team.
He will make the Celtics a better team.
But like I said, we can't expect too much right away. The truth is that Bradley's return to court is not the final step in his recovery from shoulder surgery. It's an essential and incredibly uplifting shift in the right direction, but it's not the end of the road. It will take some time for him to get back in the flow, and grow accustomed to his new teammates. In turn, it will take the Celtics a little time to readjust to having him back in the flow.
But it won't be long until his impact his clear, and the Celtics are far better for his presence. The Celtics as a team, obviously. But also as individuals.
With Bradley, Rondo gets a much-needed break on man-to-man defense, and can focus on what he does best reeking havoc in the passing lanes. Rondo will also (finally) have someone in the starting five who's younger than 35, can get out on the break, and doesn't privately wince before deferring to his authority. On that note, I'm really interested to see what Rondo, Bradley and Jeff Green might do together. If Jeff is willing to run, that group can do some damage.
Then there's KG. Sure, the big guy will still be the glue and the last line of defense, but with Bradley, the Celtics won't have to count on the last line as much as they do now. And on offense, have you noticed that KG's assists are down this year? It hasn't been a monumental drop, but Garnett's 2.7 assists per 36 minutes is his lowest average since his rookie year. And while some of that is surely a result of Doc brainwashing Garnett to shoot more, I think it also stems from guys not cutting to the basket. That when he has the ball in the post, there's often no other option BUT to shoot. Bradley will change that. The entire offense will flow better with his movement. And expect those KG assists to bump up.
And what about Jason Terry? He's been an enormous disappointed over his first two months in Boston, but with Bradley back, he can finally return to the bench, to the sixth man role that the Celtics hired him to fill and that Terry's spent the last four years perfecting.
All in all, I know that there are a lot of people out there trying to warn the masses about putting too much emphasis on Avery Bradley's return. People who don't think there's anyway he can help that much. That the Celtics are in trouble, either way.
But I'm just not one of them.
I'm on the Bradley bandwagon.
In fact, his return is already No. 1 on my list of the most exciting things to happen during the first week of 2013.
The complete slideshow will be posted on Friday.