NEW YORK — Last season, Avery Bradley hounded the ball-handler for the opposing team. The Celtics defensive ace often bodied-up that player for the court’s full 94 feet, making it a chore for his adversary to even cross the half-court line.
One of the main reasons Bradley used this technique was to chisel time off the 24-second clock so opposing teams would be forced to rush on offense.
But this season, you won’t see Bradley checking guards the length of the court nearly as much, because his defensive role is changing.
“It’s interesting, what people think Avery is really good at is picking the ball up the court,” coach Brad Stevens said during shootaround Tuesday, hours before his team lost to the Brooklyn Nets, 82-80, in a preseason game at the Barclays Center.
“But he can be really, really good off the ball. That’s where we think we can get even better, is off the ball.”
Bradley said the Celtics “want me to calm down a little bit more, not be so restless, I guess you can say, on defense, going for steals. They want me to be disciplined, and pick my spots every now and then, pick up full court, but get back and play angles.”
The former Texas standout, who had two steals and a team-high nine rebounds but scored just 7 points on 2-for-13 shooting, is already a stout individual defender.
He finished the 2012-13 regular season allowing 331 points on 475 plays. Of players with at least 450 defensive plays last season, Bradley’s average (0.679) was by far the best. The next closest was Chicago’s Taj Gibson (0.744).
In a preseason game against the Knicks Saturday, the Celtics tested Bradley’s new role by starting him against Knicks guard Tim Hardaway. Hardaway shot 3 for 16 and scored 9 points as the Celtics beat the Knicks, 111-81. Bradley acknowledged that guarding a player who didn’t have the ball as much was an adjustment.
“At times I found myself trying to pick up full court and you see Coach [motioning], ‘Get back,’ ” Bradley said. “You know, it’s weird, but at the same time it makes me disciplined. I didn’t go for steals. I was just being smarter on the defensive end and that helps our team out a lot.”
His new duty on the defensive end also means that Bradley will more often be matched up against opposing team’s best perimeter scorers.
“I love it,” Bradley said. “This is what I play this game for. Going up against great players every single night, going up against that challenge.”
Been here before
Tuesday wasn’t Stevens’s first trip to the Barclays.
He was here in March, as his Butler Bulldogs played in the Atlantic-10 Conference tournament. Stevens recalled a rather ironic incident during that tournament after a quarterfinal win against La Salle.
The Bulldogs were about to leave the arena but their bus had mechanical issues. While they waited for it to be fixed, Virginia Commonwealth’s bus pulled up to the nearby loading docks — and on the side of VCU’s bus was a banner of one of its players dunking on the Butler defense in a recent matchup.
The Butler players were pretty amused and posed for pictures next to it before they could finally board their bus to leave.
Stevens has no NBA experience, but he has been a head coach.
Jason Kidd, the Nets coach, has NBA experience as a player, but he has no experience as a head coach. When asked who had the steeper learning curve, Kidd didn’t hesitate. “Probably me as a head coach,” Kidd said. “He’s had success in college and he’s going to have success in the NBA. So I think it would probably be me learning how to be a head coach in this league.” Stevens didn’t agree or disagree. “Whether we compare jobs or not, I don’t know; I think every job coaching is a challenge,” Stevens said. “I could see where he would say not having sat in that seat is unique. It’s unique for me because it is a different league, there are a lot of nuances that are different. “But I can also see why he would say that, because it is much different sitting there and making calls in a game and looking at it from that aspect.” . . . Courtney Lee scored 14 points, and Jeff Green and Kris Humphries scored 12 apiece to pace the Celtics. Humphries added eight rebounds. Rookie Kelly Olynyk had 10 points and four rebounds before fouling out in 19:50 of playing time.Baxter Holmes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @BaxterHolmes.