Remember Avery Bradley?
He was the player who led the Celtics in minutes over the team's final 19 regular-season games, while averaging the third-most points per game (15.1) and accumulating the third best plus-minus (94) during the span.
Bradley was the guy could have gotten the Celtics to the NBA Finals.
Recently, he made his first appearance in front of the Cetlics' fandom, showing up in uniform at the end of the team's bench over the weekend. There was no chance of the guard returning to action -- he's still slated to return from shoulder surgery in mid-December -- but with Jason Collins away due to family issues, the Celts needed a body on the bench, and Bradley fit the bill.
A few weeks from now, however, the reintroduction will be entirely different. At least that's what Bradley is banking on. Not the old Avery. Not the rusty Avery. But the new and improved Avery. A player who believes he has gotten better.
"I think even though I'm not playing, you can definitely get better because I'm getting my body stronger," he said. "So, I'm definitely going to come back stronger and be a better player."
An improvement on where Bradley left off last season would be perhaps the biggest kind of boost this Celtics team could hope for. But is it realistic?
Bradley has been diligent in his recovery, as was evidenced by the litany of conditioning drills he can be found executing with the strength and conditioning staff a few hours before each game. But physical fitness is a plus, but progression as a third-year NBA player is another matter.
This is a player who shot 34 percent from the field as a rookie, improved that to 44 percent heading into the All-Star break, and then jumped it all the way up to 53 percent for the final 34 games.
So how, without seeing real action due to his shoulder ailment, is the trend going to continue? Let Bradley explain …
THE VALUE OF SITTING ON THE BENCH
Bradley is no longer worrying about minutes, roles or even bad passes and missed shots. He is simply observing, from a vantage point the likes of which he has never experienced.
"I look at it completely different now," he said. "Some things that Doc [Rivers] might see -- because he sees a lot of things that players don't see -- I'm starting to see. Being a back-up point guard you need to know where everybody has to be. You need to know certain plays. Now, sitting back watching, I can try and become like [Rajon] Rondo as far as knowing where everybody's supposed to be. Just trying to be the General.
"It helps you feel a lot more comfortable know the plays."
Both the Celtics and Bradley thrived with the former Texas guard in the starting lineup. The move didn't take root until late January, but by regular season's end the C's had gone 20-8 with Bradley as a starter alongside Rondo, with the newly annointed shooting guard averaging 12.3 points per game in the role.
"I'm learning from [Rondo] as far as watching him," Bradley explained. "He looks at it completely different. I used to just watch it. But now I watch the people's tendencies and how to get people the ball a lot of different ways.
"I think that's why a lot of people are uncomfortable while they are young point guards. If you don't know the plays, and where everybody's supposed to be, it's hard because you're rushing through everything. That's how it used to be. But you never see Rondo rushing. He takes his time."
THE VALUE OF VIDEO
Watching has been tough for Bradley. It was difficult playing just 165 minutes as a rookie, and it's excruciating not even having a glimmer of hope of getting into a game at this stage of the season. Replays, that's another story.
For the first time in his basketball life, Bradley is diving head-first into the world of video analysis. It has opened a window to the game he hadn't previously truly embraced.
"I didn't watch and feel it as much in the summer time. But once the season started back up, I started doing it," he said. "I do it now for the simple fact that, as a back-up point guard, it helps you so when you watch film as a team you already know the mistakes your teammates made, or you made, and helps you know even more what is going on.
"It's definitely hard watching every single game. Even some games it's hard for me to sit down on the bench because I wish I was playing. But I support my teammates every game, and try to continue to get better everyday watching film, going out there working on ball-handling and shooting. Anything I can do to get better, that's what I try to do every single day."
A BETTER BODY
Before the shoulder, there was the ankle. And all along the way was the physical toll of an NBA season. After the time off, Bradley believes the physical product hitting the floor will be an upgrade of anything the Celtics have seen.
Bradley explained that his time rehabbing the shoulder has allowed him to put more time into strengthening things like a balky ankle like never before. It's the same progression often experienced by baseball pitchers who undergo Tommy John surgery. For those athletes, the fastball is often better thanks to better conditioning of the overall body due to time away from the game.
"They can work on everything," he said. "Even my ankle. I injured it two years ago, but now I'm able to strengthen even more now because I'm not playing. I'm focusing on every part of my body, and hoping to come back more athletic than before. My shoulders are stronger. I just want to come back stronger and as a better player. I'm not known for getting tired fast, but now I'm hoping to come back with even better conditioning in every aspect of my game. I want to be better for my team."
And helping the goal is the team itself, a group that can wait out the healing process.
"You do have to be patient," Bradley said. "Even though it's good intentions, it's kind of selfish to come back early and re-injure yourself. I'm just trying to take my time. I've go to worry about myself first before anything to make sure I come back strong, and that's what I'm going to do.
"The older guys tell me to take my time, and I can tell they mean not to rush back. You know they have my back so when I come back there won't be any drop-offs."
It's a reintroduction that might hold more than a few keys to this Celtics' season.