By: Bogart Lipe
The 26 year old Bradley experienced by far his most productive year of his career last year, with career highs in effective shooting percentage as well as points, assists, and rebounds per game. Entering his prime, Avery is poised to find his full potential with the Pistons, especially if the team goes back to its pick and roll system that sparked their playoff run with a healthy Reggie Jackson at the helm two seasons ago. Despite being eased into preseason action, Jackson is anticipated to be healthy and ready to play this season and should form an imposing backcourt in the East. With the starting lineup likely rounded out by Stanley Johnson, Tobias Harris, and now a leaner and what seems to be a vindictive Andre Drummond, the Pistons’ core’s potential has been given new life.
Avery Bradley’s defensive ability is lauded in NBA circles, well documented when he was left off an All-Defensive team this past summer, causing an uproar among teammates and opponents. KCP was a good defender, but he was not at the level of the elite perimeter defender that Avery is. Described by Kemba Walker as “the perfect defender”, Bradley only stands 6’2” but plays much bigger. He will serve the same defensive role as KCP last year, shadowing the most talented opposing backcourt player and will frequently shut him down. It is also highly probable his presence and competitiveness on defense will be infectious, especially important for the still young Drummond. Defense has always been contagious, and having a top defender on the floor will reactively force others to work just as hard to keep up with Bradley’s energy. The larger issue was the offense, and Avery is an enormous upgrade over his predecessor. KCP failed to shoot 40% from the floor last year, while Bradley shot over 46%, as well as shot four percentage points higher than KCP from three with a mark of 39%. Bradley has not shot less than KCP’s career field goal percentage of 40.5% from the field since 2012-2013 and is leaps and bounds a more polished offensive player than Pope as well as Marcus Morris, whom he was traded for. Bradley is much more comfortable handling the ball and can split duties with Reggie Jackson when they share the floor. Having another primary ball handler cannot be overstated, as the team last year recurrently reverted to one on one basketball, as many were not comfortable doing anything else when they had possession. Bradley’s knockdown ability from three point range, combined with the increasing improvement of Stanley Johnson’s jump shot and newly drafted sharpshooter Luke Kennard will help open up lanes for lashers like Reggie Jackson and Tobias Harris, freeing space for alley oops, kick outs for threes, and easy lay-ins. It’s possible Bradley arises as the Pistons’ best player this year and in the future, helping form a core of himself, Tobias, Reggie, and Andre that will become one of the more gifted groups in the East in a few years.
This year, however, is imperative for the Pistons and the future of Stan Van Gundy. Anything less than a playoff appearance in the now watered down Eastern Conference will cause catastrophe for Detroit Basketball, with Stan Van likely having to be relieved of one or both of his current positions and the team having to possibly be officially blown up. This will not be the same team as last year though, and should make great strides towards reaching their eventual goals in the next few years. It is key for the unit to stay healthy, which is still not an assurance with Avery, who missed 27 games last year (however played over 75 games the two years prior). With Avery Bradley’s presence, maturity, and lead-by-example attitude that will rub off on the team both on and off the floor, the team should not only contend for the playoffs, but it is entirely plausible they could challenge for a top 4 seed in the conference barring injuries too. Avery Bradley could change everything for this Pistons era, starting tonight at 7pm at home against the Charlotte Hornets as they make their regular season debut downtown in Little Caesars Arena.