First-Round Candidate: Tony Bradley

Tony Bradley, PF/C, North Carolina
Grant Halverson/Getty Images Sport
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

ID CARD: 6-foot-10¾ power forward/center, North Carolina, freshman, 19 years old

DRAFT RANGE: Ranked 40th by DraftExpress.com; 22nd by ESPN.com; seventh among centers by NBA.com

SCOUTS LOVE: There aren’t a lot of holes in Bradley’s game – or, at least, there’s not a glaring deficiency that would argue against his future as an NBA player. Conversely, there’s not an overwhelming strength in Bradley’s game either, but at 19 with a solid frame and tremendous length there’s plenty of optimism for what Bradley can become. The well-roundedness of Bradley’s game says he could grow into a starter and not be confined to a niche role. Bradley, who visited the Pistons for a draft workout on Tuesday, looks every bit his listed numbers of nearly 7 feet and 249 pounds as measured at the NBA draft combine.

SCOUTS WONDER: Even in an age where NBA talent evaluators are accustomed to projection on 19- and 20-year-old players, Bradley requires an extra dollop. He seemed an unlikely candidate to depart North Carolina after one season in which he averaged less than 15 minutes a game behind Tar Heels seniors Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks for the national champions. The fact there are such disparate ratings for Bradley suggests there will be some teams that like him plenty and others cool on his future. Organizations that look for one or two above average NBA-level skills are going to be left wondering what those are for Bradley, perhaps. Those that take a more holistic approach will look at Bradley’s age, shooting touch, length and relative mobility and see a player who could project as a solid rotation piece – perhaps a starter – before the end of his rookie contract.

NUMBER TO NOTE: 27 – That was Bradley’s ranking in his high school recruiting class, according to Rivals.com. He was a McDonald’s All-American, but not a unanimous five-star recruit considered a likely one-and-done prospect despite the fact he was committed to one of college basketball’s marquee programs. (Though North Carolina, it should be noted, hasn’t had a one-and-done recruit since Brandan Wright left Chapel Hill a decade ago.) Bradley attended the NBA draft combine a month ago still uncertain whether to leave or return to college. He says the feedback he got at the combine and in the days after that leading to the deadline for withdrawal while retaining amateur eligibility – basically, that he was a likely first-round pick – was the final impetus he needed to leave.

MONEY QUOTE: “I’m just trying to show teams that I’m skilled with the ball, off the dribble, mid-range, all that. Picking and popping, shooting mid-range, shooting NBA threes, I think that’s what really shocks (NBA teams) them the most and just ballhandling that they didn’t know of.” – Bradley, on Tuesday, on what he’s showing NBA teams in the 10 workouts he’s had to date.

PISTONS FIT: Much like another college one-and-done big man, Zach Collins of Gonzaga (which lost to North Carolina in the NCAA title game), Bradley would figure to hold more appeal to the Pistons if they’re convinced he’s equally capable of playing center and power forward. Collins might get the edge in that regard, at least, for what would seem a greater capability to guard farther from the basket than Bradley, who comes with a thicker build. But Bradley’s athletic testing in Chicago was surprisingly good, with an agility time better than another freshman big man who played sparingly for a college power, UCLA’s Ike Anigbogu, considered a potential lottery pick exclusively for his defensive upside.

BOTTOM LINE: There are some convinced Bradley will be not just a first-round pick, despite skepticism in some corners, but perhaps a lottery pick. He’s worked out for Dallas, which holds the No. 9 pick, and the Pistons at 12. One reason for the suddenly elevated expectations is reports of Bradley putting on a show during workouts from mid-range and beyond. He says teams are looking at him as both a center and power forward and he’s validating those expectations by showing he can shoot out to the NBA 3-point line. Whether he’ll rise far enough to be in serious play for the Pistons at No. 12 is anyone’s guess at this point. With so many young big men to choose from – Bradley, Collins, Anigbogu, John Collins, Bam Adebayo, Jarrett Allen, Justin Patton, et al – beauty is going to be in the eye of the beholder once the run on bigs begins.