The Triple Team: Jazz lose to Rockets as Tony Bradley goes for 23 points and 13 rebounds

Three thoughts on the Jazz’s 87-78 loss to the Houston Rockets from Salt Lake Tribune Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. Tony Bradley’s fit against the Rockets

With Justin Wright-Foreman and Jarrell Brantley out, much of the evaluation goes towards Tony Bradley and Miye Oni. Oni finished with eight points — shooting 3 of 9 from the floor and 2 of 6 on three-pointers — which certainly is not a standout game, but not a revealing game, either.

Tony Bradley’s game was more interesting: 23 points — on 9-of-15 shooting — and 13 rebounds, again, very nice numbers in competition. He’s hustling down the floor, he’s rolling on lobs, and he’s always been good at catching and finishing against lesser competition, and certainly showed that tonight. As always, Bradley’s primary rebounding contribution is actually on the offensive end. He doesn’t always make it on the first attempt, but might on the second or third. On Thursday night, that meant eight offensive rebounds on the scoresheet.

Given that we know he can do that, I was more intrigued by evaluating his other skills. The Rockets, like a lot of teams, try to get their summer league teams to play basically like their NBA team in order to evaluate them. Because there’s only a two- or three-day training camp with nearly all new players, rather than an established group of NBA players, what this means in practice is setting up a couple of plays and offensive and defensive principles to try out. For the Rockets, that means a lot of perimeter play and forcing switches on both ends.

That meant Bradley was isolated on the perimeter a few times, and to mixed results. Early in the second half, scoring guard Chris Clemons — the single best scoring guard in college basketball last year, albeit in a smaller conference — found himself one-on-one against Bradley, and then just drove by Bradley for an easy basket, despite his 5-foot-9 height.

But then later in the half, there was the same situation, and Bradley took a step or two back, and he did a better job of staying in front and contesting. These are the situations that he’ll face in the NBA, and will find them with more capable players than Clemons.

Again, he’s still 21, so there’s time to figure this stuff out. But he’s still filling out the outlines of what he is as an NBA player, and he again showed that Thursday.

2. Chris Clemons’ free-throw technique

Again, he scored 30 points per game last year for Campbell, and even shot 8.6 free throws per game last year. But look at where he shoots free throws from:

What a weird thing to do! Why does he feel more comfortable from there? That’s an insane thing, right? The elbow is further away, and if it goes off the backboard, it’s probably not going in, and it just seems like you’re going to miss it more often, right?

But don’t worry: Clemons had the highest free-throw percentage of his career last year using this technique, 86.9% from the line. He knocks them down consistently from several feet wide of the middle and a foot back. Good for him! Anything is possible.

I also think of the incredibly specific self-confidence it takes to shoot free throws like this. You’re very sure you’re a good shooter from exactly one spot, but you also don’t think that you can hit it from 15 feet away in the center of the court. If you think you can do anything, like most NBA players do, don’t you take it from the center?

I’m fascinated.

3. Russell Westbrook and James Harden traded for each other

It’s Game 4 of summer league with significant players injured, so I’m taking a special “Well, the Jazz were playing the Rockets anyway” exception to write about something that doesn’t have anything to do with Thursday’s game.

On Thursday night, the Rockets traded Chris Paul and two first-round picks, plus two first-round pick swaps to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Russell Westbrook.

What a weird trade! Those two, only two years ago in 2017, were battling it out for NBA MVP status, with Westbrook finishing No. 1 on the strength of the triple-double performance, which then seemed like a much bigger deal than it does now. Now, all of the Rockets fans that have been denigrating Westbrook for years have to support him. What a turnaround.

For OKC, it makes a lot of sense: get off a huge-money long term contract and get four(ish) first-round picks in the mean time. They can keep CP3 and be semi-competitive, or try to trade him for some return. Either way, they’ve set themselves up pretty well given their future that seemed to have a hard ceiling a couple of months ago.

I’m not sure Houston is any better. Westbrook very well may take advantage of additional shooting and spacing the Rockets present that the Thunder never had, but both Westbrook and Harden are so bad off the ball: neither of them ever cut, screen, or really move around. They’ll need to stagger them, but I’m not sure one by themselves presents a super compelling Western Conference option.

It is more interesting and chaotic, though, and for that, we salute all of the Rockets, Thunder and especially the NBA. What a good league.