The Boston Celtics publicly have said for months that re-signing restricted free agent Avery Bradley was their top priority. True to their word, they inked the guard less than 36 hours into the start of free agency. The 23-year-old will make $8 million a year through the end of the 2018 season. Cue the outrage. Oh, how wrong those doubters are.
The Celtics signed a young, improving, two-way player to a contract that will take him through his pre-prime years and cover part of his prime years. If he stays exactly the same player he is, it will be a good deal (especially in an NBA that will likely see salaries soar after a new TV deal is negotiated next year). If he improves, as many young players do, it will be a steal.
Bradley began his NBA career going 1-15 from 3-point range, and didn’t hit his second 3-pointer until March of his second season. But once he hit his second, it was on. He finished that 2012 season shooting above 40 percent from beyond the arc, and after he was recovering from shoulder surgery in the 2013 season (31.9 percent; slightly above 34 percent for the final two months of the season), he improved back to 39.5 percent this season. Yes, in two of his past three seasons, he’s nearly at the lifetime 3-point shooting percentage of The King of Three (Ray Allen, 40 percent). So, it’s safe to say he’s a very good shooter.
But is he more than a spot-up shooter? Yes, he is. Bradley’s shown a knack for moving without the ball and cutting to the hoop, easily snagging a pass from whoever is playing point guard and converting a high-percentage layup. The one trick that keeps Bradley from reaching an All-Star level is his inability to create his own shot off the dribble. But that’s not necessarily a fatal flaw.
Saving the best for last, let’s talk about Bradley’s defense. Bradley made the NBA’s All-Defensive Second Team in 2013, and while he dipped a bit to the untrained eye last season he was still the top defender on the team, and a game-changer when the situation called for it. A defensive anchor for the Celtics, he’s also started crashing the boards a bit more, grabbing a career-high 3.8 rebounds last season—a good number for a shooting guard.
The one knock on Bradley has been his health, but he’s gotten a bit of a bad rap on that front. During the 2012 lockout-shortened season he played all but two games. In 2013, he missed 32 games recovering from offseason surgery for a separated shoulder. This past season, he missed 22 games because of an ankle issue (admittedly, ankle issues caused him to fall to the Celtics in the 2010 NBA Draft). But let’s not make Bradley out to be Greg Oden. He’s more like Dwyane Wade, who has missed 20-plus games in four of his 11 NBA seasons.
Wait, you say: “Rival GMs” are reportedly laughing at the Celtics for the Bradley contract. (Are you sure it’s not Billy King?) Let them laugh. Jodie Meeks, a similar shooter, who is a worse defender and worse rebounder just signed a three-year deal that will pay him $6.5 million per year for his age 27, 28 and 29 seasons (prime years, perhaps, but also years when he’s likely not improving). I know it’s difficult to quantify defense, but can we agree that a lock-down defender is worth at least $1.5 million more than an average one? And if you really want to go back in time, Bradley profiles as a similar offensive player to Kerry Kittles (and a better defender). Kittles averaged $8.6 million in salary after his rookie deal expired. And he did it while being the fourth best player on two NBA Finals teams.
The NBA is full of teams with cap space, and the cap will only rise in coming seasons—possibly astronomically with that new TV deal. The Celtics just signed a player who can be a starting shooting guard for an NBA contender, who is only 23 years old, and who you can easily envision as the fourth-best player on a championship team. Stop the griping—this is a good deal.