Could Avery Bradley be Defensive Player of the Year?

BELMONT, Mass. -- Fresh off earning a spot on the NBA's All-Defensive first-team last season, Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley is setting his sights on a loftier prize.

"That’s my goal: To be Defensive Player of the Year," Bradley said Monday morning while unveiling a Celtics-themed basketball court for the Goentzel family of Belmont as part of a community initiative that will see Bradley unveil two more courts later this week. "I feel like [the award is] possible for me if I go out there with the right mindset."

Bradley didn't just earn a spot on the NBA's All-Defensive first team last season, he was the top vote-getter among all guards and finished behind only San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard and Golden State's Draymond Green in All-Defensive voting totals.

Still, Defensive Player of the Year is a tall task for Bradley. It has been 20 years since a guard won Defensive Player of the Year (Gary Payton in 1996). In the 2016 vote for the award, Bradley finished a distant sixth overall while Leonard and Green dominated the voting totals.

Bradley's strong play against some of the league's top guards -- particularly Golden State's backcourt -- helped put his defensive efforts back into a national spotlight last season. The Celtics added Al Horford to their back line this summer, and Bradley said he expects the team to compete for the best defensive rating in the league. If the Celtics were to earn that top spot, it might help encourage more voters to consider Bradley for the league's top individual defensive honor.

The 25-year-old Bradley, already the longest-tenured member of the Celtics and the only remaining player from the Big Three era, knows he must continue to improve defensively. The eye test worked in Bradley's favor last season, but individual advanced stats weren't quite as glossy as the ones he posted earlier in his career (albeit, back when he had Kevin Garnett behind him). Bradley improved as a team defender last season and now wants to find a balance that allows him to thrive again individually, like back when he made his name by consistently stripping opponents.

"The only thing I wanted to change in the past was being a little bit more disciplined on the defensive end," said Bradley. "Last year I was definitely disciplined. I didn’t reach as much; I was trying to be solid to help our team. But this year is going to be a mix of both because I feel like I’m capable of being even better because I got a chance to learn from my mistakes in the past and now I know exactly what I need to do."

Some additional highlights from Bradley's eight-minute chat with reporters Monday:

Bradley skips recruiting trip: Bradley was noticeably absent from Boston's traveling contingent that pitched Kevin Durant in the Hamptons in early July. Explained Bradley: "Me and Kevin are like brothers; we talk all the time. So I’m not going to talk to him about that, you know what I mean? I’m more asking him how he’s doing. I was actually with him the week before all that stuff went down at a camp in Austin. I really wasn’t that much involved [in recruiting], I was more worried about myself just getting healthy and making sure I was continuing to work out." Pressed on if he was surprised by Durant's decision to sign with Golden State, Bradley laughed and said, "You know what, I can’t really say. All I can say is that I’m happy for him, and I feel like he’s part of a great organization. And I wish the best for him. Kevin is a really good guy and an even better player."

Boston is a destination for players: Bradley thinks players around the league are taking notice of what Boston is building. "I think if I were a player [on another team] I would want to come here," said Bradley. "With all the history and fans -- that alone would make me want to come here. I can’t speak for all the other guys in the NBA, but I wasn’t surprised at all that [Horford] would want to come here. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of an organization like this with a coach like we have and the type of guys that we have? Seeing how we are just growing every single year, improving every single year, I feel like every player would want to be a part of a process like this."

No longer hamstrung: Bradley's season ended in Game 1 of the 2016 playoffs when he strained his hamstring against the Atlanta Hawks. Bradley said it took only about a week after the playoffs for him to start feeling better and he has no lingering effects now as training camp nears. Still it was tough for him to watch Boston get eliminated in six games. "I think it would be tough for anybody," said Bradley. "Your team is out there competing at a high level and you want to be out there helping them. It was hard for me, but, at the same time, those things happen. My focus was just making sure I’m healthy, preparing for the next season." Bradley noted that coach Brad Stevens and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge were adamant that Bradley would not rush back from the injury in the playoffs and risk a longer-term injury. Said Bradley: "I was trying to fight through it, but they helped me make the smartest decision for myself and the team. That’s what I did. Now I’m healthy and I feel great."

Glowing scouting report on Horford: Bradley said he has gotten rave reviews about Horford from those who have played with him. "Al Horford is a very good player; a great team player," said Bradley. "I was actually with [former Hawks guard] Jeff Teague this summer in Vegas at an Adidas event and he was telling me how [Horford is] really going to help our team out a lot. He’s a great locker room guy, a great player. I’m excited to have a chance to play with him, learn things from him. To add him to this culture, I’m excited about it."