SALT LAKE CITY — Tony Bradley has been patient and trusting since getting acquired by the Utah Jazz on the night he was drafted in 2017.
Spending most of his time over the last two years on assignment with the Salt Lake City Stars, the Jazz’s G League affiliate, Bradley was in a tough situation behind Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors.
“He was in a role where he wasn’t going to get on the court,” Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “Even if he was really good, it was hard to get minutes, at least during kind of the meat of the game.”
Unexpectedly an opportunity presented itself earlier this season when Ed Davis fractured his left leg during a loss in Sacramento on Nov. 1.
Bradley moved up in the lineup and became the reserve center behind Gobert. Then on Nov. 23 and 25, as Gobert nursed a sprained ankle, Bradley got the first starts of his career.
His performances, while not mind blowing, were impressive considering he had only played in short stints in 22 NBA games before starting in place of Gobert.
When Davis returned to the court Bradley resumed his role as the third option at center, never getting more than a handful of minutes a night, if he played at all.
“I just took it as a learning opportunity and stayed ready,” he said.
That was until the Jazz faced the Clippers on Saturday in Los Angeles. Instead of turning to Davis as the sub for Gobert, Snyder called on Bradley. The same thing happened again on Monday at home against the Detroit Pistons.
Davis, who has been a mentor to Bradley this season, hasn’t had the easiest path after joining the Jazz during the offseason. Missing 12 games with an injury certainly stalled his incorporation into the team, but even so Davis is putting up career-low numbers at just 1.4 points and 4.3 rebounds per game for the Jazz.
Meanwhile, Bradley has shown signs of improvement and growth in the chances he’s had on the court especially when it comes to rebounding efforts and setting good screens.
“He’s done his stuff that we all hate to do when you’re not playing, and he does it every day,” Joe Ingles said of his teammate’s work ethic. “He’s stayed ready and obviously he’s getting an opportunity right now and he’s playing well.”
The one thing that seems to be holding Bradley back from going to the next level in his game is being able to defend without fouling, which is much easier said than done.
Gobert noted that Bradley is usually in good position and has intentions of doing the right thing, but that he sometimes is a step behind or a little late closing out.
Defending without racking up fouls is a tough challenge for any NBA player and when asked how to do it Gobert laughed while saying he still hasn’t figured it out. Gobert also added that the mental part of preparing and staying engaged could be the most important part of Bradley’s defensive development.
“Every minute that he can get on the court is great,” Gobert said. “But him being mentally prepared and ready to come into the game at any time is really key.”
The fouling problem is one that Bradley is acutely aware of and he is always trying to get better. In practice he works on closing out, making sure his feet are in the right spots, and keeping favorable position in rebounding situations.
After the Jazz’s win over the Pistons Bradley lamented about the two quick fouls he got when he checked into the game, shaking his head with disappointment.
“I had one today in the open court. I’ve got to work on dropping my feet and being ready when I run out to a shooter,” he said. “I have a long way to go in order to just help the best I can. It’s good though and I’m grateful.”
The catch is that the best way to get better defensively is through repetition and more time on the floor, something that has not been regular or consistent to this point for Bradley. Even so, his teammates are happy that he’s getting more game time and are confident that he’ll continue to improve.
“He’s worked everyday for the last few years, waiting for this opportunity,” Ingles said. “He’ll keep getting better the more he’s out there.”
With upcoming games against the Chicago Bulls, Orlando Magic, and New Orleans Pelicans — all teams with losing records — Bradley could be looking at more chances on the court.
Bradley knows that his minutes aren’t guaranteed and that every mistake he makes could be the one that leads to his playing time again becoming diminished. So, he’s taking every day one step at a time and making sure he finds a way to learn from every moment he spends on the floor.