Matt Bradley’s season can be broken down into three sections. When he first came his offense was not up to it’s usual standard, and his defense was lacking, to say the least. For the first twelve games he shot 40/28/79 (FG%/3pt%/FT%) from the floor, with five rebounds and two assists per game. Starting with a breakout game against Colorado St, he turned his season around, with a shooting line of 49/50/80, to go along with six rebounds and three assists. The last section was the postseason, consisting of the Mountain West Tournament and the NCAA tournament. Over those four games he shot 32/27/64, with seven rebounds and two and a half assists.
He said the reason he started playing better was his conditioning. According to him, he was not used to playing defense so hard at Cal, and it took his legs out from him. As he got used to the new style of play, he was able to adjust and play better. To close out the regular season, he was playing with incredible efficiency on a large volume. Then, it fell apart in the post season, when the team needed him most.
Bradley has arguably the deepest bag of any player in SDSU history. He just had what was by many measures the worst scoring season of his career, and was still really good. Now that he is in better shape, and with a full offseason to get ready, he should be able to maintain his high level of play on both ends of the floor for a full season.
Defense will never be Bradley’s strong suit. The offensive end will always be his focus. That being said, his defense improved considerably over the course of the season. Early on he would miss assignments, rotate slowly, and got back cut a number of times. By the end of the season he knew his assignments, knew his rotations, and gained a knack for drawing charges in key moments. He grew from being a liability to a positive impact player on the defensive end.
Aside form the occasional charge, his defense is not flashy or disruptive, but he prevents points, and is a good rebounder from the guard position. He will never be the player to lock down the opponents best player, but he does not need to be. He will hold his own, and when combined with his excellent offense, that will be enough.
Offense is where Bradley earns his keep. Most nights he was the only offensive threat on the floor, and despite opponents throwing double and even triple teams at him every night, he still averaged seventeen points a game.
He is known for his isolation sets, often having to create for himself. It was his most used play type, but despite the narrative, he was only an average isolation player. It is something he can do, but should not be his or the team’s first choice.
Some context is needed though. Bradley has an ability to lull defenders to sleep with his ball handling ability. He will use various crossovers and step backs until his defneder is out of position, then decides what shot to take. His isolations would likely be much more effective with more floor spacing. The Aztec players lack of gravity made it really hard for Bradley to attack the basket the way he might have wanted, instead having to settle for jumpers often.
More floor spacing will have multiple benfits for the offense. Giving Bradley a wider lane will help him get to the rim more often, where he can either finish or draw contact, something he has been very good at throughout his career.
More spacing can also help Bradley be a better facilitator. Towards the end of the season, as Bradley was seeing double teams regularly, he became a much better passer. His best passes came out of isolation sets. With better spacing, Bradley can continue to operate in isolation sets, but do so more efficiently.
With all that being said, one of the priorities for next season should be to try and let Bradley work off ball more. His isolation plays got plenty of love, but his catch and shoot game is where he was hyper-efficient.
Adding a shot creator in Darrion Trammell, and potentially another shot creator, should help Bradley get more catch and shoot opportunities, increasing his efficiency even more.
For all his talents, Bradley had one major issue during the season. His play during clutch situations, specifically his free throw shooting, was bad.
He missed a free throw against Arizona St that would have put SDSU up three with eight seconds left. He missed two free throws while up one on the road against Boise St with seven seconds left. The Aztecs lost that game by one point.
The worst example was in the NCAA tournament, tie game, seven seconds left, Bradley missed the front end of a one-and-one. There’s no guarantee the Aztecs win that game if Bradley makes one or both of those free throws, but missing them definitely did not help.
In the last game of the regular season Bradley hit his free throws to extend the lead, then turned the ball over a possession later with the Aztecs only up by one and eight seconds left.
The problem was not always free throws, and it was not present every close game, but it was consistent enough to be concerning for the future. Good teams need a guy who can hit those free throws to close out games. Bradley is the best offensive player, able to create shots for himself and others, so the responsibility falls to him to make those shots.
It may be the case that Bradley just got unlucky in those moments. That he would normally make those free throws and just simply did not do it in those instances. However, when the programs first NCAA tournament win since 2015 is on the line, that’s not something one leaves to chance. If the San Diego State athletic department has a sports psychologist on staff, Bradley should go see them. That way he is doing everything he can to be ready when another big moment comes.
Aside from the clutch moments Bradley is an excellent player. If he had one additional thing to work on it would be his ball handling. He can get loose with his handle at times, especially in transition, which led to turnovers.
Overall, the best way to help Bradley improve will be to get him some help. He has shown he is capable of carrying a team’s offense, and was able to do so efficiently for much of the season. The addition of Darrion Trammell should help a lot, as Bradley will be able to work off ball more and attack broken defenses more often after Trammell draws help. Adding another shooter would be helpful too in order to give Bradley more room to operate.