When the heat of August comes to its unfortunate end, fading into the cool breezes of autumn, and the leaves give way to the cycle of nature and fall with grace to the ground below, we will once again find ourselves at the precipice of the NBA regular season. And despite the almost never-ending journey awaiting us once we plunge off that cliff, we’ll be filled joy because with it comes the re-debut of LeBron in Cleveland, the Spurs’ defense of their title, KD’s defense of his first MVP and many young stars making the leap. So too, comes the opportunity to again watch Avery Bradley and his maniacal defense wreak havoc on opposing offenses. Though it’s understandable if this item doesn’t make the first page of the list of things you’re most excited about seeing this upcoming season, it’s near the top on mine.
Now, defense isn’t always the most entertaining thing to watch. The thrill of a LeBron James drive and dunk or the majesty of a Steph Curry step-back jumper is impossible to match. We aren’t here to debate that. But then again, Avery Bradley doesn’t play defense like most people, which is what makes him so much fun to watch—as long as you happen to be a Celtics fan. Bradley’s penchant for being a bit overaggressive and physical when hounding opposing guards makes him a prototypical “love him if he’s on my team, hate him if he’s not” player. It isn’t difficult to imagine another team’s fan watching a Celtics game and thinking in the middle of it, “Man, I’m sick of Bradley.”
Which, of course, is because he excels at what he does. Taking the ball out underneath their own basket and bringing it up the floor is the most simple part of a point guard’s job description—except when Avery Bradley is on the other team. Bradley turns this mundane exercise into a terrifying ordeal. He pokes and bumps, bothering opponents the whole length of the floor to such a degree that some of them have begged him to take it easy. Imagine that. Bradley is such a fearsome defender that other professional basketball players, some of the best in the world, have, in the middle of a regular season game—not pickup, a regular season game—asked him if he would please back off a little bit.
Coming into the summer, it wasn’t a given that Bradley would be back in green and white this season. An unrestricted free-agent, it seemed certain that other teams would be interested in acquiring the unrelenting defensive specialist. And while there likely were, none it seemed were willing to shell out the four year, 32 million dollar contract Danny Ainge put on the table—and you can’t really blame them. As much as I love Avery, eight million dollars a year is more than I would have given him. It’s a classic case of where the line between being a rational and irrational fan gets blurred. Should the Celtics have committed that much money to a player, who, while one of the best in the league at one specific thing, is a role player? Maybe not, but part of me doesn’t care. It’s important sometimes to just forget about everything else and focus on how much joy watching a certain player brings you.
Once you’ve delved too deep into the NBA mountain, like many of us have, it’s hard to return to the way things were before, when little else mattered besides being mesmerized by the players in front of us. That was why we fell in love with the game to the point where we now concern ourselves with future cap room and second round draft picks and analyzing how players will fit into an offensive scheme. Watching Avery Bradley play defense brings back that feeling. Seeing him alter the course of a game with some well-timed steals that single handedly force an opponent to change their game plan is basketball theater at its finest.
There are still three long months ahead of us, and when they come to their long awaited end, I’ll be more than ready to see LeBron lead the Cavs back to the playoffs and Tim Duncan defend another title. But when that time comes to hurtle ourselves headlong into the journey that is the NBA regular season, I’ll be just as ready to see Avery Bradley lock up his opponents.