I think I’ve gotten more skilled since summer league, and right now my confidence is at an all-time high. —Tony Bradley
SALT LAKE CITY — Both by circumstance and also his seemingly conscious choice, Utah Jazz rookie center Tony Bradley has been a bit of an afterthought since entering the NBA in late June.
First there was draft night, as fans and pundits were still reacting to the Jazz’s acquisition of the 13th overall pick, Donovan Mitchell, when the team traded the 30th and 42nd selections to the Los Angeles Lakers for Bradley, the 28th pick who played just one season at North Carolina before declaring for the draft.
The scouting report on the 6-foot-10, 248-pounder pointed to his potential, but the consensus was that it might take him a considerable amount of time to develop. That idea was manifest during Summer League in July as Mitchell starred while the 19-year-old Bradley had a more bumpy ride.
Then at Utah’s annual media day Sept. 25, most of the talk concerning the team’s frontcourt players centered around Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors. Additionally, as players field questions from the press in pairs, the quiet Bradley sat in stark contrast to the incredibly articulate Mitchell and deferred to the guard as much as he could.
Mitchell said Bradley, who has acted as Mitchell’s de facto chauffeur since the two arrived in Salt Lake City because Mitchell doesn’t yet have a driver’s license, is the same away from the spotlight, preferring to stay inside playing video games rather than go out like Mitchell enjoys.
Through the Jazz’s first three preseason games, and then its fifth and final one Tuesday against the Los Angeles Lakers, the native of Bartow, Florida was also quiet as far as the impact he made on the game, scoring just three points total.
In the team’s fourth game, however, Bradley showed some of the reasons why Utah made the trade to get him on draft night. Although he entered the road game against the Phoenix Suns at the beginning of the second half with the Jazz already up by 24 points and made some mistakes (five fouls and two turnovers), Bradley scored 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting and grabbed a pair of rebounds in just 16 minutes of play.
In that stint, he showed athleticism, effort and touch around the basket, prime tools that can be molded through proper coaching.
“Tony’s unique in a lot of ways as far as his length and his hands,” Utah head coach Quin Snyder said. “Similar to Donovan, probably more so because he’s younger, the adjustment for him is a challenge, but I think when we’ve put him in the game, he’s looked like he’s belonged. He’s done the things that he’s capable of doing. I think he’ll continue to get better. As much as anything, that’s stood out. You see the potential and you know that he’s working at it to actualize it.”
Said Bradley of his extended stint against the Suns: “It felt good, just getting some of the nervousness out. It helped my confidence.”
Both Bradley and Snyder said independently that the biggest item on the youngster’s to-do list at this point is improving his overall conditioning and strength.
“Overall, I think my body has improved,” Bradley said in comparison to what it was like during summer league. “I think the stronger I get, the better I’ll be on the court. That’s including skill. I think I’ve gotten more skilled since summer league, and right now my confidence is at an all-time high. I’m just ready when my name is called to get on the court, and if not, I’m ready to learn everything I can.”
Added Snyder: “A lot of it for Tony is just getting comfortable learning how to work. He’s got some guys that are in front of him that he can learn a lot from.”
Bradley isn’t yet sure if he’ll spend more time this season with the Jazz or the G League’s Salt Lake City Stars, but he said no matter which team he is with at a given time, he’s ready to learn all he can.
For now, the big video gamer is relishing the life of a being a professional basketball player, and particularly enjoys being able to play as himself on NBA 2K18. Asked by a reporter what his Potential rating is in the game, Bradley said he edited it up to 99 the first day he got it.
If that potential can be realized in real life and not just on the screen, Bradley might not have much choice but to someday be a center of attention.