The 2019-2020 NBA season has revealed that the Jazz have a problem at the backup center position. Come playoff time, Tony Bradley will need to step up.
This year is Tony Bradley’s third in the NBA — it’s also his third with the Utah Jazz. Coming into this season, the 28th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft hadn’t made much noise with the franchise that first bet on him. In fact, in two seasons, he’d only appeared in 12 games with ‘em.
After the Jazz traded Derrick Favors to the New Orleans Pelicans this past offseason, they signed Ed Davis to a two-year, $9.7 million deal. All signs pointed to the Jazz having no faith in Bradley as a bonafide backup big in their rotation …
Yet again, he’d found himself buried on the bench.
As the season unfolded, however, it became apparent that Utah’s second unit wasn’t as strong as originally anticipated — Davis, in particular. Yes, a fractured fibula caused him to miss 12 of the Jazz’s first 18 games, but he still appeared in 25 contests for coach Quin Snyder. And his play in those 25 games resulted in Davis averaging career-worsts in nearly all major statistical metrics.
Davis’ injury would prove beneficial to the furthering of Bradley’s career, though. Unexpectedly thrust into Snyder’s rotation, Bradley proved he could do something the scrappier, hustle-heavy Davis couldn’t at 31 years of age — rebound and reliably finish the ball from close proximity.
The Jazz’s coaching staff certainly noticed. And once Jordan Clarkson arrived in late December to shoulder the bulk of the team’s second-unit scoring, the backup five was all but Bradley’s.
So, come playoff time, what can Jazz fans expect from Bradley out on the hardwood?
First and foremost, inexperience.
Bradley’s 22 years old. And remember: he only spent a year under Roy Williams’s tutelage at North Carolina with his minutes largely coming off the bench as a reserve for senior Kennedy Meeks. At the highest levels, much of his “growing up” as a player has taken place on the fly.
During the regular season, Bradley could regularly be seen leaving his feet to contest jump shots far away from the basket — unnecessarily sending opponents to the line was often the end result. Furthermore, Bradley’s lack of quickness makes him a bit of a “small ball” liability, as well.
There are some bright spots to Bradley’s game, though …
He’s a strong rebounder, for starters, averaging 4.3 rebounds per game in only 10.7 minutes of play. This is particularly good, considering Davis was brought in almost exclusively to clean the glass off the bench. Last year, in his first season with the Brooklyn Nets, Davis averaged a career-best 8.6 rebounds per game. This year, his 3.8 boards per game are the worst of his career.
Bradley’s also got a leg up on Davis in another way — his hands are considerably better. Coach Snyder’s second unit runs a number of pick-and-roll packages on the offensive end. Bradley’s robust frame and good hands make him an ideal partner with Joe Ingles away from the hoop.
Out West, with the Jazz unlikely to nab a top-three seed heading into the playoffs, they’ll face a formidable foe — there will be no “cake walk” series coming through Utah. Because of this, especially with Bojan Bogdanović out of the lineup, Rudy Gobert will see extended minutes …
Seriously extended minutes.
Deservedly so, Bradley will be Quin’s first choice off the bench to give Gobert a breather. If the playoff stage proves too much for him, though, don’t be surprised to see Davis take his place.