Pistons rookie guard Luke Kennard talks about his first preseason practice, and adjustments he's made since the summer. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
Auburn Hills — Avery Bradley is more than just a catch-and-shoot guard. He’s a contagious one.
That’s the hope, at least, now that he’s here in Detroit, where the Pistons are moving into a new arena downtown at the same time they’re trying to forge a new identity.
And for the 26-year-old Bradley, acquired from Boston in a surprise trade this summer, that’s also the expectation.
Practice doesn’t always make perfect, but it does set a standard, and just a couple days into his first training camp with the Pistons, teammates already are taking notice. Actually, it started even before camp, with pickup games that felt more like playoff games, at times, with Bradley involved.
“Defensively, it’s obvious,” veteran point guard Ish Smith said. “He climbs into guys and he brings the whole intensity up. I tell people all the time, leadership doesn’t mean you’ve got to be the loudest, it doesn’t mean you’ve got tell everybody what to do. Sometimes you just do it by example.
“And he plays at such a high level defensively that, for me, I don’t want to look like the odd man out. (It’s) ‘He’s not gonna play harder than me, and leave all of us looking out of place.’”
Bradley admits it’ll take him some time to figure out his place when it comes to being a vocal leader. As he put it, “I can’t just come in here bossing everybody around.”
That’s not really his nature, anyway. His is a naturally upbeat personality, with “kind of a quiet spirit,” Smith says.
But in the meantime, he figures he can — and will — come in and do something else.
“Just play hard,” Bradley said. “Make it contagious. I feel like whenever your teammates see you working hard every day, or see you getting extra shots in or whatever, it almost puts pressure on everybody.
“We’re all competitive and we all want to be the best players we can be. So whenever you’re able to build that identity and that atmosphere I feel like it’s contagious and all the guys end up doing the same thing. That’s what I’m hoping I can bring to this team.”
That’s certainly what he brought to the Celtics for most of the last seven years. Boston made the playoffs in six of those seasons and finished with the best record in the East last spring. And when you ask him what the secret was, beyond the talent on the roster, he’ll talk about the need to buy into the coach’s plan, which is something that hasn’t happened nearly enough in Detroit over the years.
“You have to make sacrifices and bring out what you do best,” Bradley said. “The best teams do that. And in order for us to be a good team, we have to be able to accept that, be mature enough to go out there and execute that every single night.”
In order for the Pistons to get back on track, after showing some of their immaturity last season, they’ll need to start by buckling down defensively. And while Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — the player Bradley’s replacing in the lineup — was no slouch at that end of the floor, in Bradley the team has added a proven vet that Stan Van Gundy calls “one of the truly best perimeter defenders in this league.”
After earning first-team NBA All-Defense honors in 2015-16, his numbers slipped a bit last season when he was limited to 55 regular-season games due to Achilles and hamstring injuries. But playing beside diminutive point guard Isaiah Thomas, Bradley still was tasked with defending opponents’ top guards every game. And it was his defense on Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler that sparked the top-seeded Celtics’ rally from an 0-2 series deficit in the first round of the playoffs. He’ll be asked to do the same on a nightly basis here in Detroit, as well.
“When we first got him, selfishly, I was happy,” Pistons point guard Reggie Jackson said. “To be lining up against him every day is going to make me better. But to not have to play against him when the lights are on and the fans are actually watching, I’m loving it. He’s gonna be (a problem) for everybody else.”
Bradley shouldn’t have a problem fitting in offensively, either, after averaging a career-high 16.3 points per game last year while shooting 39 percent from 3-point range. (By comparison, Caldwell-Pope averaged 13.8 points and shot a career-best 35 percent from 3.)
The Pistons don’t need Bradley to be their best player. In fact, if he’s even their second-best player, it probably doesn’t bode well for their chances of being a legitimate playoff team this season.
Van Gundy insists he’s still counting on Andre Drummond living up to his potential. On Wednesday, he was quick with the praise for the Pistons’ enigmatic big man, saying his “focus and energy have both been outstanding.” The coach also is convinced Tobias Harris, last year’s leading scorer, can “become a go-to guy” this season, particularly with a better-defined role now that Marcus Morris is in Boston after the Bradley trade. And Van Gundy is hoping — maybe even expecting — that Jackson will return to his 2015 form after a season lost to a knee injury.
But what the Pistons are getting from Bradley might be more of a sure thing than any of those other items on Van Gundy’s wish list. He’s the kind of player who puts coaches at ease while making opponents uncomfortable. And it’s that consistency that this Pistons roster needed most.
“He’s a complete professional,” Jackson said. “Somebody doesn’t get better for seven straight seasons for no reason.”
And for now, there’s no reason to think his stay in Detroit won’t last longer than eight months.
Bradley is entering the final year of his contract, and he’s due for a huge raise next summer, but the Pistons figure to be among the highest bidders if all goes well this season.
Which is exactly what Bradley’s counting on.
“This is just another chance to become not only the person I want to be but the basketball player I eventually want to be,” he said. “I think this is the perfect place for me.”