Tony Bradley keeps big picture in mind as he eyes a bigger role in the NBA
The propellers whirl and the tiny box takes flight. When Tony Bradley wants to unwind, this is how the young Utah Jazz center relaxes. Sometimes he flies over a snow-covered stretch of the Wasatch Mountains, sometimes over the lights and buildings of downtown Salt Lake, the drone’s camera capturing spectacular images along the way. “For some reason I like it,” Bradley says. “I just like cool views of things. Different angles. Especially flying high.” Maybe it’s no coincidence. Over the past year, the big man has learned the value of the big picture. Bradley was a McDonald’s All-American in high school and a standout at the University of North Carolina. But when the 7-foot center from Bartow, Florida was drafted by the Utah Jazz in 2017, he was told to temper some of his expectations for his first year in the NBA. Team officials saw Bradley as a project. Talented, but raw. Instead of being a regular with the Jazz, he would spend most of his rookie season with the Salt Lake City Stars. A year in the G League suited the 20-year-old Bradley fine. “I’m a patient guy,” he said. “Of course, everybody is anxious to get on the court, but it’s a process.” So, while fellow rookie Donovan Mitchell starred in front of sellout crowds, Bradley sharpened his skills in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. While his Jazz teammates traveled on private charters, Bradley squeezed his 7-foot body into a seat in coach. “It’s nothing to complain about,” he said. “It is what it is.” Bradley was frequently called up by the Jazz for practices, and he appeared in nine games. When starting center Rudy Gobert suffered an injury, Bradley took a two-hour Uber ride from Portland, Maine to Boston (part of a five-state tour in a span of 24 hours) to meet up with the team. But for all his sacrifices, there were rewards. In the G League, Bradley was a starter for the Stars. He logged nearly 30 minutes a night on the court, averaging 15.4 points, 10.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks a game. He played. He got better.