In the past four weeks he’s spent in Salt Lake City, Tony Bradley has started to hear more feedback than ever about his summer project.
People around the Jazz practice facility have told the 20-year-old center that he looks stronger, more chiseled than he did when he was drafted a year ago out of North Carolina. His body fat percentage is down, his numbers in the weight room are up, and Bradley feels more confident about himself than ever.
“I just look more like an athlete,” he said. “I’ve been getting that a lot since I’ve been back here.”
How that translates to his game, starting Monday night in the Utah Jazz Summer League, will be a key question for Bradley going forward in his NBA career.
The spotlight of Utah’s three-game stretch at Vivint Smart Home Arena this week figures to be on first-round draft pick Grayson Allen, who will make his debut in a Jazz uniform. But summer league is arguably a more important opportunity for Bradley, who played just 29 minutes in nine NBA games last year.
Depending on how this month goes for the Jazz, Bradley figures to be the third (or fourth) center on the roster, not an ideal place for the 2017 No. 28 draft pick to get a significant rise in playing time. The Jazz acknowledged that they picked Bradley, who played just one year for a national championship Tar Heels team, based on the potential of his 6-foot-10 frame and 7-foot-5 wingspan, but at some point, the potential has to show.
It did, in spurts, last year for the Jazz G League affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars. He averaged 15.4 points and 10 rebounds per game while blocking 1.3 shots. But it’s a big jump to get from the Stars to the Jazz rotation, and Bradley has tried to get a head start on it this summer.
The fundamental key to his transformation is in his body, which was bound by baby fat when he first showed up in Salt Lake City. Utah’s strength and conditioning staff has spent a lot of time trying to help Bradley, a former point forward in high school, gain added coordination for his size.
“He was such a young guy last year, he’s just gotta catch up physically,” said assistant Mike Wells, who is coaching the Jazz summer league team this week. “Sometimes it takes the bigger guys just a little bit longer to physically mature to get where they can get everything in the same direction quickly.”
That means working on core strength; on getting a quick second jump; on muscling opponents in the post. Coming to the Jazz after a run to the national championship last season followed by an exhausting predraft process, Bradley didn’t have the same ability to hone in on those qualities as he did this summer.
“A lot slowed down coming into this year, just focusing on my body especially,” he said. “Just being stronger, you can move people in the post. I feel like I’m more powerful and more explosive, even running, even jumping.”
Teammates who played with him last year have been impressed, including Erik McCree, a two-way Jazz player last year who bonded with Bradley over their home state of Florida.
Some things have stayed the same, such as their video game sessions of “NBA 2K.” But there’s been a difference when McCree sees him on the court.
“He’s been working super, super hard,” McCree said. “He’s gonna have a big summer. He’s gonna be a good player.”
Summer league will be the first opportunity to see how well that prediction bears out. Bradley had some ups and downs last year, but as one of the more experienced guys this season, he’s hoping to be more impactful inside and show his NBA skill set. The Jazz appreciate his rebounding, his soft scoring touch and his upside as a rim-protector, but to ensure his place on the team, he’ll need to start translating that potential.
For now, that’s something Bradley is relishing. All he wants is an opportunity. Today, summer league. Tomorrow? Maybe something bigger.
“That’s one of the main things: To show improvement and try to get on the court next year,” he said. “Try to show that I’m ready.”
Utah Summer League schedule
The Jazz are hosting a six-game schedule at Vivint Smart Home Arena, with the Jazz playing three games through the week. All games will be broadcast on NBA TV, and all Jazz games will be broadcast on KJZZ. The schedule:
Atlanta Hawks vs. Memphis Grizzlies, 5 p.m.
Utah Jazz vs. San Antonio Spurs, 7 p.m.
Atlanta Hawks vs. San Antonio Spurs, 5 p.m.
Utah Jazz vs. Memphis Grizzlies, 7 p.m.
Memphis Grizzlies vs. San Antonio Spurs, 5 p.m.
Utah Jazz vs. Atlanta Hawks, 7 p.m.