SALT LAKE CITY — At the 2:47 mark in the first quarter, when Jazz center Tony Bradley checked into Sunday's game against the Clippers in Los Angeles, it felt like a big moment.
No, it wasn’t his NBA debut. But it did kind of feel like it.
For the first time, the still-young center was going to play actual meaningful NBA minutes. This wasn’t mop-up time at the end of a rout. Or a game that had no bearing on the standings. This was an early-season contest against the perceived Western Conference favorites.
And Bradley was needed.
When Jazz backup center Ed Davis suffered a fractured left fibula against Sacramento on Friday, it opened up an opportunity for Bradley. Davis is going to miss at least four weeks, and Bradley will get the first chance to fill those minutes.
So how did his first true NBA time go?
Bradley finished with eight points and three rebounds in 13 minutes of action. He got lost in pick-and-rolls at times but, for the most part, the 21-year-old looked confident. And that was especially true in the second half.
In the third quarter, he got his first block of the season when he recovered and got a block from behind. On the Jazz’s ensuing offensive possession, he rebounded a Donovan Mitchell miss (one of the few Utah offensive boards for the night) and drew a foul.
Back-to-back big plays for Bradley. And in limited time, that does tend to leave a positive impression.
His defensive position wasn’t always perfect (something that might have more to do with not often playing with the main Jazz unit and also just not being Rudy Gobert than anything else), but he’s a guy that knows how to rebound. And with the Jazz suddenly struggling in that department, he could prove valuable.
OKAY, TONY! pic.twitter.com/QD7NiAiFZ4— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) November 4, 2019
“Tony did a good job,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “He did a really good job. He’s been working hard. There are always things that collectively we can do better, but Tony did a really good job.”
Davis’ injury has provided him an opportunity. The Jazz picked up his fourth-year option before the season began, demonstrating confidence in the unproven center. Now, he gets a chance to show that confidence wasn’t misplaced.
Bradley was drafted as a project. A 19-year-old center with potential, but nowhere near ready to contribute. In two years playing in the G League with the Salt Lake City Stars, he has slowly become more and more confident and more skilled. His offseason work drew praise from Jazz front office and coaches. He knew that with Derrick Favors gone, his time could come quickly. So he put in work on his game, but also his body. He built it up to try and make it more NBA-ready.
“I wanted to get stronger this offseason; wanted to get more in shape; wanted to get more of an athlete-looking body,” Bradley said before the season. “So I feel like I've made progress and made good strides but gotta continue.”
The Jazz picking up his option gave him an extra boost of confidence, too. He’s now hoping to reward their faith.
“They see something in me and they want to keep that development going and see something, some potential,” Bradley said.
What do they think he can develop into?
“Just a great player,” Bradley said in October. “I was talking to the front office a couple days ago and they liked my improvement. They liked different areas I've improved in and just different things in the weight room in the offseason and I'm doing everything that they're telling me to do. And so they're happy with me.”
And that didn't change after Sunday.