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‘A big opportunity’: Tony Bradley shows aggressive side during Utah Jazz’s bubble practices

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Utah Jazz center Tony Bradley (13) soars in for a dunk as he gets past Houston Rockets center Isaiah Hartenstein (55) during an NBA game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The NBA playoffs are set to begin in less than five weeks.

When the Utah Jazz take the floor July 30 against New Orleans they’ll have a starting lineup that is well-versed in playoff basketball, but much of the team’s bench has very little postseason experience, and in Tony Bradley’s case, none at all.

They 22-year-old reserve center, who is from Bartow, Florida, a short drive from where the Jazz will be playing at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World, played in just 12 NBA games before the start of the 2019-20 season.

“Tony has been great. He’s a different player than the Tony I’ve seen before. I think he’s going to be one of the keys for us in order to go as far as we want to go.” — Rudy Gobert, on Tony Bradley

This year, Bradley got 50 games under his belt before the league shut down in March, continuing to progress as a backup for Rudy Gobert. On March 9, just two days before the Jazz’s game in Oklahoma City was called off and the league suspended the season, head coach Quin Snyder and Donovan Mitchell praised Bradley for his discipline and growth on the court.

With practices underway in Florida and the Jazz preparing for the league’s restart, Gobert said Bradley looks even better than before.

“Tony has been great,” Gobert said Tuesday. “He’s a different player than the Tony I’ve seen before. I think he’s going to be one of the keys for us in order to go as far as we want to go.”

In addition to Gobert’s praise, Snyder noted that Bradley is part of a large group of young, developing players who have proven to be attentive and defensively aggressive in practice scrimmages against the starters and rotational players.

The benefit and importance of the young players showing intensity in these scrimmages is that it forces the higher-minute players they’re going against to work harder and prepare for what they’ll be up against when the games begin.

“In a practice situation like this, having a group of guys come in and really guard, it challenges our rotational guys to make plays and to be really good and make reads because the defense is good,” Snyder said. “That’s been a big help.”

It would be intimidating for anyone to serve as the backup to a two-time defensive player of they year. Gobert has big shoes to fill (pun intended) and it hasn’t been an easy road for Bradley, who spent most of his first two years in the league with the Jazz’s G League affiliate.

In the early days of the season Bradley was slow to react on defense, missed rotations and often found himself in early foul trouble. But as the season progressed, so too did Bradley, and it’s all leading up to the biggest stage of his young career.

“Tony has a big opportunity of giving our bench a big punch and of dominating,” Gobert said. “He’s been great in practice, he’s been doing some surprising things. He’s blocked my shot a few times and he’s getting much better.”

Bradley returned from the league’s hiatus looking both leaner and more muscular and has impressed the coaching staff and front office with his dedication. In addition to the physical work put in over the break, Bradley committed to pushing himself and facing things that make him uncomfortable, a notable mental task for such a young player.

On the court, his attention to detail and increased aggression has the rest of the Jazz taking note, with Gobert saying the new and improved Bradley is exactly the kind of player he wants coming in for him in the postseason.

“I like him when he’s aggressive and a little angry,” Gobert said with a smirk. “I think the angry Tony can be a big addition for us in the playoffs.”