A couple weeks before the NBA season tipped off, the Utah Jazz picked up the third year team option on former Tar Heel Tony Bradley. Bradley left North Carolina after his national championship freshman year despite having a raw skill set and having played limited minutes leaving Chapel Hill. Bradley felt like if he ended up with the right team and the right coaching staff, he could develop better in the NBA than he could in college. He took a big risk, as we’ve seen talented players in the past get drafted into bad team situations and it can really derail a career. Bradley lucked out though, and he ended up getting drafted into the perfect situation when the Utah Jazz drafted him 28th overall in the 2017 NBA Draft.
Well, let’s actually go with close to perfect. The Jazz are coached by former Dukie Quinn Snyder, and this year drafted Durham legend Grayson Allen. Other than the fact that Bradley seems to be surrounded by Blue Devils, the Jazz are one of the best organizations Bradley could have ended up with.
In a hypothetical composite list of NBA cities that free agents look to live in, Salt Lake City would come in dead last. Some players, like former Tar Heel Ty Lawson, would almost just retire instead of moving Utah. As someone who grew up in Salt Lake, I think it’s a fantastic place to live but can also recognize that the average NBA player might be more attracted to bigger markets. Utah gets really cold in the winter, not Minnesota cold but still scrape ice off your windshield cold. As Draymond Green infamously stated in the 2017 playoffs, there is a complete lack of nightlife in Salt Lake, or at least the nightlife the average NBA player enjoys. The Jazz are generally one of the least nationally televised teams in the league, which means superstars are going to be seen less, which hurts their marketability with sneaker companies and other endorsement opportunities. Not to mention less visibility affects NBA All Star and All-NBA team voting. None of that even takes into account the unique demographics of Salt Lake City’s population.
That tangent was to illustrate that to be a competitive NBA franchise, the Utah Jazz, out of necessity, have created and implemented one of the best player development programs in the league. Jazz General Manager Dennis Lindsey, along with head coach Quinn Snyder, are meticulous with their player scouting as well as their coaching plans for each individual player. They can’t afford to miss on a draft pick like other franchises can, so if they draft a player there are specific traits that player has demonstrated that the Jazz believe would fit in their specific system. Their G-League affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars, has one of the best track records of players successfully making the jump from the G-League to the NBA, including several players that contributed to the Utah Jazz’s playoff run last season.
Which brings us back to Tony Bradley. In his rookie season Bradley seemingly set the record for most call ups as he switched between the Jazz and the G-League Stars roster almost weekly. Bradley was a McDonald’s All American in high school. Going from high school phenom and playing in college for one of the best programs and fan bases in the entire country at the Dean Smith Center to playing in front of a few hundred fans can probably become pretty frustrating. When little kids say they want dream of playing in the NBA, that dream usually doesn’t entail bus trips between road games in Rio Grande and Sioux Falls.
Making a frustrating situation even worse for G-League players who dream of making it to the league is the feeling that you’re simply stuck and aren’t going to get a shot. As much as NBA scouts look at G-League players, they are also responsible for collegiate players, international players who can come play over seas, as well as actual NBA players who might be available by trade or free agency. The G-League isn’t minor league baseball by any stretch of the imagination in terms of the best way for young players to get noticed by their own NBA franchise or another.
This gets extrapolated for players who end up playing for franchises that don’t have the infrastructure to utilize their G-League affiliate. For some NBA teams, their G-League team is simply a place to stash drafted players that they don’t have room for on the entire roster. For the Utah Jazz, their G-League teams are full of actual players who the organization has a specific plan for. Rudy Gobert was the NBA Defensive Player of the Year last season, his rookie year he was exclusively in the G-League (D-League then). One other starter and two-three players heavily featured in the rotation played for the Jazz G-League team. The same can be said about the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors, among other organizations.
Going into year two, Bradley is positioned to be about the fourteenth player on the Jazz roster, but he’s still on the roster. For his situation specifically this year Bradley is playing behind All-NBA player Rudy Gobert at center. Behind Gobert, starting power forward Derrick Favors and NBA journeyman Ekpe Udoh play almost all of the backup center minutes. Bradley probably isn’t going to play a lot this season for Utah, and a lot of it has to do with who’s in front of him more than anything.
For a player as talented as Bradley who is putting in the development work necessary to be successful, this will probably be another frustrating season for him. Most casual NBA fans don’t pay a lot of attention to small market teams like the Utah Jazz, so they aren’t going to be up to date on the back end of Utah’s bench and G-League teams. Bradley is probably going to go mostly unnoticed through out the league this year, and possibly even the next year.
Sooner or later though Bradley is going to show up in the league and be able to make an impact. Roy Williams has a good track record of getting players ready for the NBA. The Jazz organization puts such an emphasis on player development and have a specific plan for every player in their system. Bradley is going to make an impact for the Jazz, or somewhere in the league, and the Jazz picking up his 3rd year option shows that they’re excited about his potential and committed to him going forward.