Avery Bradley’s ascension should be surprising for those who have followed him throughout his six-year career. He plays under the radar. He works feverishly. He doesn’t have much to say. He just steadily improves.
What is shocking is his rebounding improvement is so dramatic, so much so that he can no longer remain in anonymity. Bradley is making noise with his game, and the banged-up Celtics are grateful for his contributions, especially on nights like Wednesday.
After a strong first quarter, the Celtics mostly were sleep-walking through the final three periods, only to be saved by the late-scoring heroics of Isaiah Thomas and a couple of clutch buckets from Bradley in a 90-83 win over the shorthanded Dallas Mavericks at TD Garden.
Bradley finished with 18 points, but more importantly, pulled down a career-high 13 rebounds. His rebounding numbers have been outrageous in comparison to previous years. His career high in rebounding average was 3.8 in 2013-14, as he grabbed 226 rebounds in 60 games.
This season, Bradley already has collected 96 rebounds in 11 games for an 8.7 average, which leads the Celtics by a wide margin. Bradley is a 6-foot-2-inch guard.
“In the past, the coaches were always telling me to rebound more,” he said. “It’s just something I know our team needs. I’m here to do whatever I can do to help our team and right now it’s rebounding. That’s what I’m going to try to do every single night.”
No bravado there. No swagger. Bradley expects a lot of himself, and though he did not come to Boston with a complete skill set, he has always impressed the organization with his work ethic.
And he has improved steadily over the past six years, and now he is an established scorer, one of the league’s best defenders, and a volume rebounder? So far, that’s the case.
“I have a lot of confidence,” he said. “I worked on my game every single year. I feel like that’s what it’s all about, once you get that opportunity you feel a lot more comfortable out there and that’s how I feel now.”
Bradley decided to switch agents about a year ago, and he signed with noted representative Rob Pelinka, who also represents Kobe Bryant, James Harden, and Andre Iguodala. Pelinka said he was impressed by Bradley’s work ethic and disposition.
“Mostly because he’s so committed to the game and playing it the right way,” Pelinka said after the game. “He’s one of those guys, when you talk to players around the league, everyone respects him. They respect him every night. He plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played and gets the most out of every minute. He’s just a warrior and I’ve always been sort of drawn into guys that have that mentality.
“The word that stands out to me is ‘mentality.’ I think Avery’s always been, players around the league have already respected how hard he plays, but I think mentally this year he’s probably the most focused I’ve seen him in terms of that mentality every minute of the game.”
Video: Bradley 3-pointer in 1st quarter
It seems that the best people to talk about Bradley is anybody other than Bradley. He refrains from talking much about his growing offensive game. He did say in the preseason he wants to be recognized as a defensive player of the year candidate, and that is the lone part of his game he’s comfortable talking about because it’s always been there.
His mid-range jumper. His 3-point shot. His ability to cut to the basket and improving aggression on attacking the basket are things that have blossomed over the years.
“One thing about Avery, every year he comes back with something new. He’s just a very confident player right now,” Thomas said. “He can score, defend, rebound, do a lot of things, so we depend on him to do those things. And he’s having a great year. I know he’s going to continue to do that, and continue to work on the things he worked on this summer. And I’m going to continue to try to find him and get him going early. He’s a big part of what we’ve got going here.”
As Bradley continues to put up numbers, cause havoc defensively and even pull down rebounds, he is going to draw more attention. It’s only natural. Bradley wants respect. He wants to be one of those highly paid players who garner All-Star consideration. He desires to be great.
“You know with him there’s no issues, he’s going to work hard,” Pelinka said. “If he has a game where he doesn’t make shots, sometimes he’ll call me or text me and go back to the gym and shoot for an hour. I think the other nights the guys had a road trip and dropped a game [to New Orleans] and he told the whole team we’ve got to get up and get some extra shots in. That’s just a testament to who is off the court.”
Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com.