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New Sixer Tony Bradley could fill vital role as center depth for Joel Embiid

Since going back to college, new 76ers center Tony Bradley hasn’t received an abundance of minutes. But at 22, he still feels he is on the right course.

Tony Bradley (center) defending LeBron James during an August game in the NBA bubble.
Tony Bradley (center) defending LeBron James during an August game in the NBA bubble.Read moreKim Klement / AP

Since entering the NBA as a first-round pick in 2017, new 76ers center Tony Bradley hasn’t received an abundance of minutes. But, at 22, he still feels he is on the right course.

The Sixers acquired on Monday from Detroit in exchange for Zhaire Smith. That came five days after Bradley’s original team, the Utah Jazz, traded him to the Pistons.

Bradley was the Los Angeles Lakers’ pick at No. 28 after his one and only college season, with the national-champion North Carolina Tar Heels. His rights were traded to the Utah Jazz on draft night.

At North Carolina, he averaged 7.1 points and 5.1 rebounds in 14.6 minutes off the bench. He totaled five points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes during the Tar Heels’ 71-65 national-title win over Gonzaga.

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During his three years in Utah, Bradley saw limited NBA action. He only appeared in 12 total NBA games during his first two years, but he did play in 44 G League games during that span, averaging 14.5 points and 8.7 rebounds in 27.7 minutes per game.

His most extensive NBA playing time came last season when he played 58 games (three starts) for the Jazz. Bradley averaged 4.9 points and 4.6 rebounds in 11.4 minutes. He also played in six of the Jazz’s seven playoff games and averaged 1.5 points and 3.8 rebounds in 8.0 minutes. Other than in the G League, Bradley hasn’t gotten much of a chance since high school.

“It’s been a while since I have had a significant number of minutes, but I feel like I can get there,” Bradley said. “I just got to keep working and keep developing, keep working with the guys in front of me.”

In the Sixers’ case, there are two big obstacles to playing time: three-time All-Star center Joel Embiid and recently signed backup Dwight Howard, an eight-time All-Star who is coming off an NBA championship season with the Los Angeles Lakers.

The 6-foot-10, 248-pound Bradley is listed as a forward-center, but he said he hasn’t played much power forward. He said that during the NBA’s restart in July, he played a little power forward alongside Jazz All-Star center Rudy Gobert.

“It was very brief,” he said.

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Bradley said he would be up for playing power forward for the Sixers. That said, the concentration will likely be at center. With Embiid’s injury history and the fact that Howard will be 35 in December, there could be a role for a third center.

Now Bradley is going from playing with one All-Star center to another. Gobert was the NBA’s defensive player of the year in 2018 and 2019 and a first-time All-Star last season.

“It was great learning from him, seeing things he did on the floor, the advantage of having him on defense, the things he would do to alter shots, his presence, just learning different things like that,” Bradley said about Gobert.

Bradley is looking to continue his basketball education with the Sixers and comes to Philadelphia with a defensive mindset.

“I love learning and just trying to grow and finding ways to improve, especially defensively,” Bradley said. “So coming to Philly now with Joel Embiid and guys like Dwight Howard, I am looking forward to continuing to grow, watch what they are doing and see what I can take from them and learn and improve my game, especially defensively.”