When Ed Davis went down with a fracture in his left fibula, that put the spotlight squarely on Tony Bradley. Bradley, who had been Utah’s development project for the past two years since he was drafted in the same draft as Donovan Mitchell, was finally going to get the sink or swim moment a lot of fans had wanted to see. While all Utah Jazz fans were rooting for him to succeed, the results thus far with Bradley have not been encouraging. The question marks he had as a big man in the modern NBA—lateral quickness, speed, verticality, and athleticism—still remain question marks. Which begs the question, if Tony Bradley continues to struggle, does Utah have any options for another backup center? Who would even be available and be able to contribute at a higher level than Tony Bradley?
Bradley’s resume this season
Bradley is a legitimate big man at 6’10 and if he was in the league just 15 years earlier, he would have been guaranteed a 10-12 year career, part of that as a starter. But the smaller, quicker, and faster modern NBA demands more of a big man nowadays. Gobert isn’t an ungodly defensive player just because he has long arms and is tall. He’s a gifted athlete at his size that can keep up with smaller speedsters in the NBA and close space. While offensively he can just pile up stats because—frankly—he’s just big, Bradley has a giant bullseye on his chest every defensive possession because he’s currently not made for this NBA. That can change as he develops more—he is only 21—but Utah is in win mode now. They’ve made these trades and signings because they want to compete now.
Bradley is averaging 4.1 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 0.2 blocks in only 9 minutes a game. Since the injury to Ed Davis, he’s averaging 12 minutes a game while putting up 4.8 points and 4.2 rebounds. He has an offensive rating of 112 and defensive rating of 105, but that doesn’t tell the entire story because he ends up playing in garbage time.
According to Cleaning The Glass, the Utah Jazz score 7.5 points less per 100 possessions on offense when Bradley is in at center, and the Jazz defense gives up 10.8 points more per 100 possessions when Bradley is out there. That’s a total swing of 18.3 points for the opposing team. That’s partly because Bradley backs up a future Hall of Fame defensive player in Rudy Gobert, but a lot because he’s not doing too hot. For comparison, when Ed Davis stepped on the court, the offensive scored 9.9 points less per 100 possessions, but the defensive actually gave up less points per 100 possessions, 11.2 points less, to be exact. That’s a swing of 1.3 points in the positive for Utah.
So what can be done?
Option 1: Be Patient with Tony Bradley
In the G-League last year, the Salt Lake City Stars had a defensive rating of 106.5 (10th). That’s with Tony Bradley out there. They were also 6th in Total Rebounding percentage. But Tony Bradley did not have the best defensive rating on the team for the big men. Who did? Willie Reed. Reed is not an option, by the way. He signed with Olympiakos in Europe in October. The hope is Tony Bradley continues to improve. He has improved greatly in just the last season, but the step from 2nd best center to best center on your G-League team is a lot smaller compared to the step he needs to make to be a quality backup big in the NBA for a contending NBA team.
The other part to being patient with Tony is Ed Davis is scheduled to be reevaluated first week of December. That doesn’t guarantee he returns then, but if Utah is confident Davis can return first week of December, it may prove wise to be patient with Tony Bradley and ride this out.
Option 2: Free Agent Market
There are some names hanging around out there on the free agent market that could prove valuable to Utah in a pinch. While the Portland Trail Blazers showed the depth of their desperation by signing Carmelo Anthony, Utah would not be appearing too desperate if they were to target some of these players. Let’s go to the veteran NBA players first.
Last season Noah averaged 7.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 0.7 blocks with the Memphis Grizzlies. If Utah were to go to free agent bargain bin shopping, he should be first on Utah’s list due to his familiarity with former Grizzly Mike Conley. Even better for Utah, when Noah was on the court for Memphis, the Grizzlies offense was +1.1 points better per 100 possessions, and the defense gave up 6.7 points fewer per 100 possessions. He’s got fire and grit. He’d be a great veteran’s minimum target if Davis wasn’t able to return back for another few weeks.
He averaged 12.9 points and 8.2 rebounds with the Houston Rockets last year while playing at Power Forward and Center for them. If Utah were to target Faried, he’d be a small ball center. The problem for Utah is they’d have to adjust the way they played on offense and defense to accommodate Faried. Since we’re looking at players who’d be plug and play fixers for Utah’s backup big situation, this doesn’t appear to be a likely candidate for a quick fix.
Option 3: Trade Market
Since going to the trade market is not a quick fix for the center position, we’ll forgo this option since Utah would probably like to use their trade assets for something more than just a band-aid fix on their backup center position. While the Jazz could find a very high quality backup big, they’d probably use it to improve some other bench positions as well. Don’t worry, I have another piece evaluating the early December trade market for potential pieces for Utah, both realistic and
pipe dream dramatic.
With Ed Davis only a couple weeks out from getting reevaluated on his leg, it would benefit Utah to stay patient with Ed Davis. Utah could even see what Jeff Green could do in minutes at small ball center (though I’m not sure that’s worth the risk). Their main starters are going to have to put in major minutes to keep the bench unit afloat. While backup big is a big concern for the Jazz, Utah Jazz GM Justin Zanik could be biding his time to put the Utah bench into trade season triage and see if he can build a better bench regardless of who the backup big is through trade.
In any case, Utah will be sticking with Tony Bradley at least until Davis’ next reevaluation. Fingers crossed that Ed can return soon because the Western Conference is not going to wait up for Utah if they fall behind.