Midway through the first quarter of Monday night’s Jazz debut in the Salt Lake City Summer League, center Tony Bradley snatched a defensive rebound and, rather than look to outlet pass to the point guard, simply took off on the break.
Long-striding coast to coast, Bradley stampeded unimpeded into the lane, found no resistance, and laid the ball in. It took the crowd at Vivint Smart Home Arena by surprise, and apparently the Memphis Grizzlies, too. But it didn’t surprise Bradley.
“I always think I can do that. I did it in high school a lot. I just saw the lane wide open, [figured] I’d just dribble it ’til someone stopped me, and then nobody stopped me,” he said afterward.
It was a shockingly fluid move for the third-year big man out of North Carolina — and a timely one, too. With the Jazz having traded Derrick Favors and unlikely to retain veteran center Ekpe Udoh, now is the pivotal moment for the 6-foot-10, 240-pounder to show he’s evolved beyond a G League work-in-progress and is ready for an NBA role.
After one of the Jazz’s practices in the lead-up to the summer league, Bradley said he’s been focusing on getting into better shape as his primary means of improvement.
“I’ve made some major improvements, especially just with my body,” he said. “I just feel stronger and more powerful; more speed and quickness.”
It showed, beyond even the impromptu fast break.
He had racked up a dozen rebounds before halftime, frequently muscling Memphis bigs Ivan Rabb and Ben Lawson aside to grab the loose caroms. His ability to go up for multiple jumps in quick succession looked improved as well.
The work he’s put in hasn’t gone unnoticed, either. One of his primary competitors for a potential Jazz roster spot, veteran Willie Reed, was full of praise. Asked what stood out abut his G League and Summer League teammate, Reed didn’t hesitate.
“Man, you see Tony’s body? It’s crazy!” he said with a big smile. “He’s been working, man. I’m so proud of him, I honestly am.”
Reed added that, in battling Bradley in practice, it’s apparent “he’s a lot stronger.” He also pointed out that Bradley is “getting up and down the court, moving really, really well,” as a result of some weight loss (Bradley estimated he’s dropped 10 to 12 pounds).
Which isn’t to say there isn’t more yet to do. The offense, in particular, remains a work in progress. Coach Lamar Skeeter drew up an out-of-timeout play to free Bradley for a free-throw-line jumper, which clanked solidly off the rim. His below-average athleticism also makes finishing inside difficult.
Still, Bradley wound up with 14 points (on 6 of 11 from the field and 2 of 6 from the stripe) and 15 rebounds in the 85-68 loss to the Grizzlies. The team’s second-round picks had up-and down performances, with Jarrell Brantley displaying physicality en route to totaling 11 points; Justin Wright-Foreman impressing with his speed and change of direction, but struggling with his shot and totaling six points on 3 for 14; and Miye Oni putting up a mostly anonymous two points.
Skeeter said he’s happy with what he’s seen from Bradley.
“The developmental process … is a process. It’s not gonna happen overnight,” he said. “… He’s a guy you know what you’re gonna get out of him — he’s gonna come out, he’s gonna play hard, he’s gonna play the right way, he’s gonna guard. So there’s lots to look forward to with him.”
Despite entering his third NBA season, Bradley is just 21 years old. Each of the Jazz’s recent trio of second-round draft picks is older than he is — “My mom told me [the other day] I’m still the youngest [on the Jazz]. I was like, ‘How is that?’ It’s crazy.”
Still, because this is Bradley’s third summer with the team, Skeeter said he was pleased to see the big man has “taken more of a leadership role” with his summer league teammates. Now, all that remains is for him to take on more of a playing role.
Reed, for one, is convinced it will happen.
“This is a big step for him this summer, and I think he’s gonna show everybody that he’s been working and that he’s ready to take that next step,” he said.
Spurs 97, Cavaliers 89
Second-year guard Lonnie Walker had 20 points and seven rebounds as San Antonio defeated Cleveland. The Spurs’ two first-round picks of 2019, Luka Samanic and Keldon Johnson, had 11 and four points, respectively. Rookie first-rounder Dylan Windler led Cleveland with 19 points. Former Utah Jazz two-way guard Naz Mitrou-Long added 14 points and eight assists for the Cavs.