This summer could be make-or-break for Jazz big man Tony Bradley
(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tony Bradley of the Utah Jazz speaks with the media following their season-ending game at the team practice facility on Thursday, April 25. 2019.
This offseason will be absolutely pivotal for determining just how good the guy that the Jazz traded up to grab in the 2017 draft can be in the NBA.
It’ll also be really big for Donovan Mitchell, too.
But while the Louisville product will looking to ascend to superstardom, his fellow draftee of two years ago, center Tony Bradley, is still fighting to prove he belongs at all.
“This summer’s a huge summer for me,” Bradley said.
In two seasons, he has appeared in a total of just 12 NBA games, and has career averages of 2.1 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 0.7 blocks per game, while shooting just 40.7% from the field — numbers that don’t exactly move the needle.
After appearing in nine games as a rookie, he got into only three as a sophomore. And while you could argue his production took an immense leap forward in Year 2 (5.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, .500 FG% in 12 mpg), you also have to take sample size into account: He logged 17 points and 15 rebounds total this season — and 15 and 10 of those came in the regular-season-closing game against the Clippers, when Utah emptied its bench, not wanting to risk injury to its rotation pieces ahead of the playoffs.
Admittedly, Bradley hasn’t had the easiest path to playing time with the Jazz. They do, after all, boast an All-NBA Third Team center in Rudy Gobert. And while veteran big man Derrick Favors typically starts at the four, the majority of his minutes these past couple seasons have come as the backup five. Meanwhile, the same year the Jazz selected Bradley as a freshman out of North Carolina, they signed former EuroLeague MVP Ekpe Udoh, whom Utah fans have come to affectionately dub “the best third-string center in the league.”
Still, while those big men undoubtedly precluded Bradley from playing, he said they’ve been instrumental in teaching him how to play.
“I picked up a lot of things just watching, especially this past playoff series — walling, using your body and taking contact, trying not to foul, just little things like that,” he said. “All season, just [watching] Rudy, Fav, Ekpe — just watching those guys, learning a lot, and just taking what they’re doing and trying to add it to my game, especially defensively.”
(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah center Tony Bradley (13) shoots for the Jazz, in Utah Jazz summer league action between Utah Jazz and Memphis Grizzlies in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, July 3, 2018.
Of course, it’s incumbent upon Bradley to make a case that he deserves more minutes. And this summer might be the optimal time to do it.
After all, Favors’ contract is not guaranteed until July 6, which means Utah’s free agency pursuits have his future with the team in limbo. Further, Udoh is an unrestricted free agent, and seemed to foreshadow his departure on locker cleanout day, when he told the media that while the Jazz are a great organization, “I didn’t get the opportunities that I wanted.”
And so, Bradley may well get his shot to show what he’s capable of. He certainly has much to prove — including, like it or not, that the team didn’t make a mistake in trading up to get him.
On draft night two years ago, the Jazz dealt the 30th and 42nd overall selections to the Lakers to move up to No. 28, where they grabbed the 6-foot-10, 248-pounder.
The Lakers used those picks to draft Villanova senior guard Josh Hart and Indiana sophomore center Thomas Bryant. The former has appeared in 130 games and made 45 starts, averaging 7.9 ppg and shooting 36.1% from deep while earning a reputation as a dogged 3-and-D wing. Bryant, meanwhile, after a forgettable rookie campaign, broke out as a sophomore with the Wizards, appearing in 72 games, starting 53, and averaging 10.5 points and 6.3 rebounds in 20.8 minutes, while connecting on 61.6% of his shots. He famously shot 14 for 14 and totaled 31 points and 13 rebounds in a Dec. 22 victory over the Suns.
Bradley, by comparison, has seen most of his action with the G League’s Salt Lake City Stars. In 2017-18, he played 24 games, and averaged 29.6 minutes, 15.4 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks, and shot 58.1% from the field. In 2018-19, he played 20 games, and averaged 25.5 minutes, 13.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks, while shooting 58.7%. He also launched 23 shots from 3-point range, connecting on six (26.1 percent).
Rather than concern himself with what others are doing, though, Bradley is worrying about himself. Asked what he most needed to improve on, he conceded there’s a lot.
“I would say continue to get stronger — strengthen [my] upper and lower body; lose some body fat — that’s another thing on my list; and just continue shooting — I wanna spread the floor a little bit, pick-and-pop, shoot 3s,” he said. “I know I can do that, so just continue to show it.”
(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Stars basketball player, Tony Bradley, during a game against South Bay, Friday, February 2, 2018 at Vivant Arena.