AUBURN HILLS – Sometimes all you need to know about one player’s impression of another is conveyed before they even put their thoughts to words. Ask Pistons players about Avery Bradley’s addition and the way their eyebrows arch, their head starts to nod and their lips purse speaks volumes.
“Bringing in Avery Bradley was a huge pickup,” Jon Leuer says of the seven-year veteran acquired from Boston in a July trade that cost the Pistons Marcus Morris and essentially ended their pursuit of holdover Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. “He’s just a guy that brings it on both ends of the floor. He’s really improved his offensive game from when he came into the league and that speaks a lot about who he is as a player and as a person. He works hard, obviously. He’ll give us a huge lift.”
The Pistons valued Bradley for his all-defensive chops, his 39 percent 3-point shooting and his ability to make plays off the dribble at a position other than point guard. Those were all areas Stan Van Gundy and general manager Jeff Bower prioritized after last year’s 37-win season, all clear strengths of Bradley’s.
But there’s more to it. His new teammates clearly expect Bradley to have a multiplier effect on them in attitude and defensive intensity.
“Everybody has to step it up,” said the guy who’ll spend most of his minutes playing alongside Bradley, Reggie Jackson. “You can’t slack with a guy who’s been known as an All-Defensive guy. Everybody knows he’s a great defender and he gets better every year.”
“When you have a guy that works like that on the defensive end and is that good, it forces you to play harder,” Anthony Tolliver said. “If you don’t, you look bad. Nobody wants to look bad. He’s busting through screens, he’s breaking up plays, getting steals, he’s in the right place, right time. This dude, he is legit on the defensive end.”
Van Gundy thinks the Pistons have a legit shot at emerging as an elite defensive team this season and it starts with Bradley.
“We’ve got the makings of a team that can be very, very good,” he said. We’ve got a lot of guys who are smart and tough. That alone will make you pretty good. And then we’ve got a couple of guys with the capability of really being big, big-time defenders. Avery’s been a first-team All-Defense guy and I think Stanley (Johnson) has the capability of rising to that level or pretty darn close to it. I think those guys key our defense.”
And, again, the expectation is that Bradley will help accelerate Johnson’s growth. They’ve talked about setting a tone defensively and getting the Pistons off to fast starts in games by shutting down the opposition’s top scorers.
“As good as this league is, teams start well, their best players are starting well,” Johnson said. “Avery knows that and I know that and I’m actually very excited. I love the challenge of guarding other players and I feel like we can impact the game in that way to start. I know it’s not going to be easy – me guarding the best players in the league for the majority of my minutes for the first time – but I’m definitely in shape enough, I’m definitely ready enough and I’m just excited.”
Bradley has talked consistently since the July trade about his admiration for Van Gundy’s preparation and attention to detail and more than once stressed the importance of players “buying in” during Monday’s media day remarks. The intersection of those two absolutes – Bradley’s stature in the eyes of his teammates and Bradley’s outspoken faith in Van Gundy’s coaching acumen – will make Bradley his coach’s most effective proxy in his three-plus years with the Pistons.
“We have to be consistent every single practice, every single game,” Bradley said. “Play hard and make it contagious. We’re competitive and we all want to be the best we can be.”
Johnson won’t be the only young player Bradley can influence. Rookie Luke Kennard will be tested in practice daily by Bradley. If he can get things done offensively against a defender of Bradley’s caliber, Van Gundy will have one less reason to be wary of a rookie’s usual shortcomings. Even Henry Ellenson, at a different position, foresees the benefits of having Bradley as a teammate.
“I’m excited about Avery Bradley,” he said. “That’s exciting to have a guy like that in your core because it makes team defense a lot easier, helps everybody out having a guy like that. I’m just excited to be able to get a chance to get to play with him.”
That seems to be a universal reflection of Bradley’s new teammates.