CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The ball flows effortlessly from his right wrist and while it doesn’t also trickle through the net, Avery Bradley’s jump shot looks more fluid, more fundamental than in years past.
Doc Rivers preached to naysayers for two years that Bradley knew how to shoot the basketball, that his erratic offense was a byproduct of confidence. There was that split-second hesitation that would plague Bradley early in his career, as if he needed to hear “Shoot, Avery” from the bleachers.
The encouragement has come from within. Bradley has gained confidence, averaging a career-best 12.9 points and shooting 42.6 percent from the field after shooting 40.2 percent last season. Bradley is making 46.4 percent of his 2-point shots, meaning he is becoming a more dependable midrange shooter.
Since the Celtics figured out Bradley is better as a combo guard and not a point guard, his offense has catapulted. Bradley has averaged 15 points in the past two games, including a 27-point effort last Wednesday against the San Antonio Spurs.
Bradley used to score more of his points beating defenders on backdoor plays but he is an emerging midrange threat, thanks to work with new assistant coach Ron Adams, credited with the development of Derrick Rose’s jump shot while an assistant with the Chicago Bulls under Tom Thibodeau.
The key to his comfort, Bradley said, is good health. He is finally recovered from surgeries to repair each shoulder.
“Last year, I had always been telling people, it’s tough getting shoulder surgery,” he said. “I didn’t think about it [before], but that stuff’s tough. I got into the gym and not only during the summertime, just trying to get my shot more consistent and once Ron Adams got here, he saw a few things he could help me out and I was doing it every single day and it helped me a lot.”
Bradley admitted that his quick thrust into the NBA, two years after high school, and the pressure of playing for a championship-caliber team, encouraged him to put too much pressure on himself.
“I don’t think and I try to do the same thing every single time,” Bradley said of his shooting. “It’s funny because my teammates see me work out with [Adams] so much, they know when I am going to miss my shots and it’s not the same. I’m just going to continue to work and all the credit to him.”
In 50 games last season, Bradley reached double-digit shot attempts just 24 times. He has attempted double-digit shots 12 times in 15 games this season.
“I know that’s what my team needs me to do and our coach [Brad Stevens] always tells us, ‘Don’t pass up open shots,’ ” he said. “That’s what I’ve been doing, just taking what the defense gives me and [Saturday], I got some shots.”
More starts for Sullinger
Stevens revealed the sprained right ankle sustained by Kelly Olynyk could require a “couple of weeks” to heal, meaning Jared Sullinger could get a chunk of the starts at center, such as Saturday when he faced off against Atlanta’s Al Horford. Sullinger finished with 15 points and nine rebounds in 33 minutes, proving he can spend productive minutes at center despite being 6 feet 7 inches.
“I like to work hard and it’s fun,” he said. “Especially going against these guys every night. The best of the best every night and you have to understand there’s a battle and you gotta take the challenge. It’s fun to me.”
Sullinger recalls everything his critics said when he exited Ohio State after his sophomore season.
“ ‘I couldn’t guard nobody,’ ‘I couldn’t play center,’ I can keep going,” he said. “But it’s battle and I love battling.”
The Celtics were already thin at center with Olynyk, who is more of a power forward at this early stage of his career. Sullinger, Vitor Faverani, and Kris Humphries will have to assume that role.
“Some things change [with Olynyk out], the way we spread the floor, he’s a great shooter,” Sullinger said. “He’s a great playmaker. When you have somebody like [Brandon] Bass and Hump coming off the bench getting eight rebounds, Vitor playing a great game. He flies under the radar. I check the stat sheet and he had 11 [points] and five [rebounds] and my eyes lit up like ‘Really?’ I didn’t even see that. Guys like that, they go unnoticed to a lot of people but they don’t go unnoticed to this group of guys in the locker room.”Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe.