In Tony Bradley’s first two NBA seasons, he appeared in a combined 12 games for the Jazz, played a grand total of 65 minutes, and accumulated 25 points, 26 rebounds, two assists, two blocks, two steals, three turnovers and seven fouls. He made only 11 of 27 shots (40.7%), including 0 of 1 from 3-point range, and went 3 of 4 at the free-throw line.
That’ll happen when you’re 1. extremely young; 2. extremely raw; and 3. buried on the depth chart as a result behind the likes of Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors and even Ekpe Udoh.
In his third season, Bradley is still very young (he doesn’t turn 22 until January); considerably less raw; and, at the moment, thanks to the departures of Favors and Udoh, and a broken leg suffered by new big man Ed Davis, elevated all the way to Gobert’s primary backup.
Now that he’s become a rotation regular, he acknowledged at Sunday’s practice (just hours before the team flew out to San Francisco for Monday night’s game against the Warriors) that he’s been hearing from plenty of people back home in Florida.
“I’ve been getting a lot of text messages after the games — especially things that I need to work on,” he said with a rueful smile. “I get a lot more of that than compliments! But it’s always good.”
No matter — his teammates are happy to provide compliments on his play for him.
Asked what he’d seen from Bradley, forward Georges Niang was effusive in his praise, calling it “phenomenal” while also explaining he’s not at all surprised.
“You just have to be fearless, and I think that's what Tony did,” he said. “Obviously, the Ed injury took us all by surprise, but, you know, injuries happen during the season. And Tony just stays ready every night, and I think it's just a tribute to him coming in every day, whether it's before practice, staying after, watching film — he's creating these little habits in practice so when he gets out into the game, these things are seamless.”
The Jazz felt there was good reason to be optimistic about the 6-foot-10 center. He acknowledged himself after last season that this summer would be huge for him. Then he went to work re-shaping his body and improving his conditioning, and he stood out in Summer League play. The team responded by picking up his fourth-year option for next season.
And so, after Bradley played about 12 total minutes through Utah’s first six games, Davis’ injury against the Kings on Nov. 1 led to Bradley surpassing that minutes total in the very next game alone, logging just shy of 14 last Monday vs. the Clippers. They were productive minutes too, as he hit 3 of 5 shots, 2 of 3 free throws, and totaled eight points, five rebounds and two blocked shots.
In Utah’s next game, against the ultra-big Sixers lineup, Bradley spelled Gobert with another 12 minutes, hitting 4 of 5 shots, and finishing with eight points, three rebounds and a steal, all while showing an increased capacity to defend and handle the physicality of All-NBA Second Team center Joel Embiid.
This past Friday against Milwaukee, Bradley’s confidence continued to grow. At one point early in the second quarter, his six field-goal attempts were more than even Donovan Mitchell had yet tried. He would go on to play about 11.5 minutes, finishing with seven points, a season-high eight rebounds, plus an assist and a steal.
While he said coaches and teammates have lauded him for “providing pretty good minutes,” he remains more focused on constant improvement, on learning from errors.
“There’s definitely little mistakes that I could correct. Especially like last game with Milwaukee — fouling Giannis [Antetokounmpo] and giving him an and-one like that was just stupid,” Bradley said.
It’s apparent that progress is coming. A few garbage-time appearances early on lowered his overall numbers a bit, but Bradley is still averaging 5.2 points and 3.3 rebounds this season, while shooting 68.4% from the field.
The soft-spoken Bradley said his approach is simple: “I’m just trying to play hard. … I’ve got an opportunity, I’m just gonna play hard. That’s all I worry about.”
Niang, meanwhile, was again willing to be more effusive on his teammate’s behalf.
Considering they spent considerable time as teammates on the roster of the Jazz’s G League affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars, before moving up to the parent club, Niang knows well all the behind-the-scenes work Bradley has put in to get to this point.
“Like I’ve told you before, the countless hours that we put in here, going through drills, simulations of things that are gonna be in games — Tony just picks up every bit of that, doesn’t complain one bit. And when his opportunity came, he’s knocking it out of the park,” Niang said. “It speaks volumes to Tony’s character, his work ethic. … I’m just so happy for him because I know the countless hours, and the patience that he’s had to have, whether it be [being] inactive [for a game] or, you know, sitting on the bench. And he’s always been ready, and always been a great teammate, always been a good guy. So when you finally see guys knock the opportunity out of the park, you can’t be anything but happy for them.”
JAZZ AT WARRIORS
At Chase Center, San Francisco
Tipoff • 8:30 p.m. MT
TV • ATTSN
Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Jazz 6-3; Warriors 2-8
Last meeting • Warriors, 115-108 (Feb. 12)
About the Jazz • They are coming off a thrilling 103-100 victory over the Bucks last Friday night, in which Bojan Bogdanovic hit a game-winning 3 at the buzzer. … Through Saturday’s games, Utah ranks fifth in the league in 3-point percentage, at 37.6%. … The Jazz also rank first in points allowed, yielding only 97.0 per game, but are also only 28th in scoring (101.0).
About the Warriors • Star guards Stephen Curry (broken hand) and Klay Thompson (torn ACL) are out, while forward Draymond Green (torn finger ligament) is questionable. … Golden State ranks 29th in points allowed (121.1) and 30th in defensive rating (116.6). … Guard D’Angelo Russell is averaging 25.3 points, 6.3 assists, and 4.3 rebounds per game.