Assuming the NBA playoffs would have played out in April, May, and June, Tony Bradley would have been the X-Factor for the Utah Jazz postseason run.
We’ve said it before, and we will say it again.
The Utah Jazz desperately need consistency from the backup bigs if they want to succeed in a playoff form. And that squarely falls on the shoulders of Tony Bradley.
Sure, Ed Davis is still on the roster, and they’ve experimented with Juwan Morgan or Royce O’Neale playing center for small stretches. But the Jazz front office and coaching staff haven’t invested nearly as much stock into those three players as they have with TB.
He’s basically been learning how to play backup center since November, and the Jazz showed no hint of shopping for a backup big at the trade deadline or buyout market. Basically, they were ready to roll with him into the playoffs before the season was suspended.
My memories of Tony Bradley this year vary as much as the roller coaster of a season the Utah Jazz have had. I remember the deer in the headlights in November that didn’t know what to do except throw his arms up and hope to catch some of the ball his opponent was shooting.
I also remember the game where he had three fouls committed in less than five minutes of play. Some of them were his obvious fault, and others were just the harsh conditions of NBA players making contact and gaining favor with the officials.
But my recency bias of the last month combined with the hiatus of the NBA season has my imagination running a little bit wild, and probably overly optimistic. TB held his ground when Gobert sat out, and played well on both ends of the floor.
He’s getting better at developing a two-man game with Mike Conley in the pick and roll, and Joe Ingles as well albeit on a lesser scale. He has a knack for tapping the ball out of opponents hands even when he loses the box-out, and tapping it to one of his teammates.
Do I dare dream that he could handle the physicality of Dwight Howard and JaVale Mcgee in a playoff setting? Howard definitely has the edge with athleticism, and McGee has the height and weight advantage.
But can Howard and McGee help out their bench unit when LeBron James is off the floor? Do the Lakers have a reliable secondary playmaker that can create looks for those two towering centers?
When TB plays with Jordan Clarkson, their net rating is +7.0 points per 100 possessions. When he plays with Mike Conley, that net rating is a + 7.2 points per 100 possessions.
The Jazz bench can out-match the Lakers bench in 3-point shooting thanks to the snipers of Georges Niang (41 percent), Joe Ingles (39 percent), Jordan Clarkson (36.8 percent), and Mike Conley (37 percent).
With an edge like that in the playoffs, the Lakers would have no choice but to play their star players some extreme minutes in the second round match-up. That fatigue would have added up, and perhaps the Jazz could have pushed the series to a game seven.
All of this is assuming that the Jazz would have made it past the Oklahoma City Thunder or the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs. In that case, TB would have had to match-up against either Nerlens Noel (underrated in my opinion) or Jeff Green (small ball 5 for Houston), his former teammate.
Having said that, there is still a sliver of hope that we see the 2019-20 season finish. In either case, the Jazz are developing a solid role player to play behind Rudy Gobert. The better Tony becomes the easier he will make life for Rudy, who played a career high 34.5 minutes per game this season.