Here's a tough decision: Decide who is the bigger catch for the 2009 Longhorn recruiting class between Avery Bradley (Rivals No. 8) and Jordan Hamilton (Rivals No. 5). Let's just say 1a and 1b. Naw, forget that. How about this--they are both phenomenal players. I'll be taking a look at Jordan Hamilton sometime soon, which leaves the 6-3, 180-pound Avery Bradley, a product of the Seattle/Tacoma area who now attends high school at Findlay College Prep in Henderson, Nevada.
Bradley apparently made the switch to make sure he can qualify academically, so hopefully Bradley won't pull a J'Covan Brown and end up ineligible. Fortunately, there don't seem to be rumors of the same character issues from which Brown seems to suffer. Bradley and Hamilton, from California, along with 2010 recruits Tristan Thompson (New Jersey by way of Canda) and Daniel Bejaranu (Phoenix area) demonstrate the national reach the Longhorns are developing in recruiting. Bradley chose the Longhorns over offers from program like UCLA, USC, Kansas, Memphis, Florida, Washington, Oregon, Wake Forest and Washington State.
The Longhorns had already won their way into Bradley's heart some years ago, as he lived in Dallas in 2002 and 2003, which means he was in Texas for the Final Four season with TJ Ford. It's amazing the impact that getting guys like Ford and Kevin Durant wearing Longhorn jerseys has made on future generations of ballers. Longhorn coaches reportedly swayed 2010 stud Tristan Thompson with video of Kevin Durant, as well as Jordan Hamilton, because those players know that Rick Barnes will highlight his wing players. But I digress. (This stuff makes me too excited.) Back to the subject at hand...
The (Sorta) Bad
Time to talk about the negatives surrounding Bradley's game. Or the few that exist, at least. He has a wiry frame, which may benefit from added strength, but there aren't any concerns about his ability to finish or defend. The major criticism is that Bradley isn't a knock-down three-point shooter. The main issue seems to be trajectory, which I consider to be Tim Duncan's main free throw shooting problem, but something that can be solved or at least mitigated. Damion James elevates well on his jumpshot and has a high release point, which helps to assuage his own lack of arc. Consistency will aid Bradley, even if his height won't in the way it does for James, although he will have less margin for error until he adjusts.
The other criticism is his handle. There are questions about his ability to play the point guard position, particularly his ability to handle the ball when defenders get up into his body. Justin Mason will have one year of eligibility remaining and Dogus Balbay will have two when Bradley steps onto campus, so he likely won't be asked to take over the main ball-handling duties when he arrives at Texas. Add to that his ability to make good passes in transition, at which he excels, and finish at the rim, render any concerns about his ability to play point guard at Texas moot, particularly if he goes pro after his sophomore season, when Dogus Balbay graduates. In fact, Jerry Meyer, the Rivals basketball recruiting analyst, predicts the Longhorns will now turn their attention to a point guard, most likely for the 2010 class.
Bradley shined at the Nike Global Challenge in August, winning the Most Outstanding Player award, while leading his team with 25 points in the championship game. He's known as a superior athlete, with long arms, explosive leaping ability, exceptional lateral quickness, and blow-by first step. As the dunk PB posted demonstrates, he has the ability to throw it down in the lane, a la Dwayne Wade or Derrick Rose. He also has the ability to change speeds, with a good crossover and hesitation move. In fact, Bradley sounds a lot like a slimmer, longer Rose coming out of high school, right down to the questions about their respective jump shots and "true" point guard mentalities, although Bradley seems more likely to end up at shooting guard. "Bouncy" is another term often used to describe Bradley, evidenced by his ability to catch lobs with his elbows above the rim, which places his vertical around 35 inches or more. Legit, no doubt.
As mentioned earlier, he also can stop on a dime to show off a well-developed pull-up jumper in the lane, the devastating counter to his quick first step and explosiveness. Although his trajectory hinders his shot, Bradley elevates well, and has a consistent release. Add to that improvement from 2007 to 2008 and an ability to "make enough you have to honor him," means that Bradley will shoot well enough to force defenders to close out hard on the catch at the three-point line. All those offensive skills combined to help Bradley average 27.5 points per game in his junior season.
Bradley is hardly a one-way player, however. In fact, he's considered one of the best perimeter defenders in his class ($), if not the best, drawing comparisons to former UCLA star Russell Westbrook. Bradley uses his long arms, quick hands, lateral quickness, and flat-out desire to guard both guard positions and the small forward position. Oh yeah, and the ability to anticipate passing lanes. And if you just read the sentence before last, you know that after the anticipation comes a steal for Bradley. Then a basket. Probably a dunk.
Here, check this video out. Most of the highlights are of the offensive variety, but notice how Bradley plays positional defense, keeping his feet underneath his body and his torso vertical, smothering the defender before using his long arms to pick his victim's pocket. The news from the summer circuit was that Bradley faced, and shut down some of the best guards in the country, including 6-4 John Wall, rated No. 1 overall by Rivals for 2009 and known as one of the fastest players in the country, with a great handle and a variety of moves and counters. Stopping Wall was no fluke, as Bradley also shut down OU commit Tommy Mason-Griffin (2009 Rivals No. 66) and junior Phil Pressey (2010 Rivals No. 42), who may be the point guard the Longhorns target in 2010. After dominating the best players on the summer circuit, Bradley may even face easier tasks most nights playing for the Longhorns. With Justin Mason and Varez Ward teaming up with Bradley on the perimeter and players like Alexis Wangmene and Clint Chapman patrolling the middle, the Longhorns should be an excellent defensive team upon Bradley's arrival, which must give Rick Barnes wet dreams.
Um. I feel like I don't really need to say much here. Except that I have a man-crush on Rick Barnes. And Chris Ogden just got on my good side by leading the successful recruitment of Bradley. But, oh yeah, about Bradley: I knew he was good before I wrote this post, but now that I understand the true extent of his game, I'm quite smitten, actually. I'll paraphrase PB here about Jordan Hamilton: I have to wait a year to see this guy wear Burnt Orange? I'll make it. I hope. In the meantime, I guess I'll just bask in the glow of the incredible rise of the Longhorn basketball team.