Detroit — It’s not like Avery Bradley hasn’t scored before. He was the Celtics second-leading scorer last season (16.3 points per game) and took more shots than anybody not named Isaiah Thomas (14 per game).
Still, it seems like he’s found another offensive gear with the Pistons.
“We’re not surprised at what he can do offensively,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said before the Pistons played the Kings at Little Caesars Arena on Saturday night. “He’s a very good pull-up shooter. He’s got good quickness. He’s good coming off screens.
“He’s really trying to get to the basket more than in the past. We like what he’s doing.”
Bradley posted a season-high 23-point effort against the Bucks Friday and then topped it. He poured in 24, on 10-for-15 shooting, in Saturday's 108-99 win over the Kings. It was his fourth 20-point output in seven games. He’s averaged 16 shots in those games, so he’s getting the points efficiently and within the structure of the offense.
“I think my role last year was a little different,” Bradley said. “I had a career-high scoring and I think that set up my role for here — being expected to perform on both ends of the floor.”
Bradley’s calling card is his defense and his aggressive and conscientious defensive play has been contagious throughout the team early on. The Pistons are forcing 17 turnovers per game thus far.
But Bradley isn’t going to let himself be pegged as a one-dimensional player.
“Every year since I’ve been in the NBA, I wanted to improve on the offensive end and my averages have improved every single year,” he said.
Bradley’s ability to handle the basketball and make plays off the dribble gives the Pistons’ half-court offense an added dimension, something they didn’t have with former shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Last season, the Pistons like to run high pick-and-rolls off center Andre Drummond. It often ended up being a stagnant, two-man play with no threat of attacking the basket.
This year, with Reggie Jackson at point guard and Bradley at the two, the Pistons are using more dribble-handoffs at the top of the key. Once Jackson high-posts the ball to Drummond, he cuts through and Drummond will dribble toward Bradley, hand the ball off and cut to the basket.
Bradley’s ability to read the defense and create off the dribble, plus Drummond’s threat at the basket and Jackson's presence on the wing, has put defenses on their heels thus far and opened up scoring chances for all three players.
“Whenever you have a threat like Andre Drummond, it makes that play a little different,” Bradley said. “You have more options.”
Drummond’s ball-handling skills, Van Gundy said, were underused last season.
“We decided we needed to utilize his ball-handling skills more than we had in the past,” he said. “Just playing through him more and he’s done a good job with that and it’s created better opportunities for us.”
Bradley gives the credit to Drummond for creating space for him and the other players on the floor.
“If he’s able to roll and open up the court, I can make the pass out and he’s creating a lot of scoring opportunities for our team without even handling the ball,” Bradley said. “That shows the maturity of Andre Drummond. The sacrifice he’s willing to make for the team because he’s not necessarily getting the ball every single time.
“But he’s able to roll and get guys open because defenders go with him. It’s almost like a guy cutting. He doesn’t get the ball but he gets his teammates open.”
Bradley has been that open teammate a lot these last two weeks — it’s a trend he and the Pistons hope continue.
Small forward Stanley Johnson, whose insertion into the starting lineup has helped toughen the unit on the defensive end, left in the third quarter with a sore right hip flexor.
Johnson played just under 23 minutes, scored eight points and was a plus-16.
His status will be evaluated on a day-to-day basis.
Rookie Luke Kennard played 10 minutes Saturday and produced one basket and one very nifty pass.
With the Pistons up by nine with under seven minutes left, he took a long pass from Tobias Harris, and in one motion flipped it to Ish Smith for a layup.
“Fantastic pass,” Van Gundy said. “It was good to get him some minutes on the floor in meaningful situations.”
Kennard and Henry Ellenson are scheduled to play in a D-League game in Grand Rapids on Sunday.
“Just to get some work,” Van Gundy said.
There are three players in the league this season who have posted three games with at least 15 points and 15 rebounds — Dwight Howard, Anthony Davis and Andre Drummond.
Drummond produced 16 points and 19 rebounds Saturday, his seventh double-double of the season.