Is Mikal Bridges Phoenix’s Third Star in the Making?

    "It was good to be back home." Philadelphia native Mikal Bridges was getting the start in front of his hometown crowd. Unfortunately, he wasn't playing

    November 21, 2018

    “It was good to be back home.”

    Philadelphia native Mikal Bridges was getting the start in front of his hometown crowd. Unfortunately, he wasn’t playing for the hometown team. Bridges was originally drafted by the 76ers, but Philadelphia traded his rights to Phoenix on draft night for a future pick. After playing high school and college basketball in the area, Bridges would have to start his NBA career with the Suns instead of the 76ers.

    Bridges tallied 13 points, one assist, one rebound and three steals in Philadelphia, his third start of the season. He shot 5-of-7 from the floor and 3-of-5 from 3-point range. In three starts, Bridges has put up impressive numbers despite not being a primary option.

    Splits (through Nov. 21) PTS AST REB FG% 3-Pt%
    As Starter (3 games) 11.7 1.0 1.7 65 50
    As Reserve (13 games) 7.2 0.9 1.5 43.2 35.9

     

    Small sample size aside, Bridges is torching opponents when he gets time with the starting unit. And Phoenix has torched the opposition when Bridges, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton are on the floor together. The trio has a +16.4 net rating in 110 minutes together.

    Despite an inconsistent role, Bridges has opened the season hot from the floor. He’s hitting 39.2 percent of his 3s and 47.9 percent of his shots overall.

    “There’s no difference,” Bridges said when asked about coming off the bench versus starting. “[I] come in and try to bring energy and play right off the jump.”

    Forward TJ Warren is canning 46.6 percent of his shots from deep, but his inconsistencies from 3-point range over a four-year career point to this number being closer to a hot start than a transformation into a 3-point shooter. Bridges shot 40 percent from behind the arc in college and took almost 100 more 3s in his three seasons in college than Warren has in five NBA seasons.

    “Just reading plays,” Bridges said on his great shooting start. “Whoever’s playmaking, just trying to find the open gap where my teammates can see me.” It’s worked so far; all of Bridges’ 3-point makes have come off assists.

    Former Suns GM Ryan McDonough said on ESPN’s ‘The Jump’ that he felt every team needed three young stars to build around. Phoenix seems to have two building blocks in place in Booker and Ayton, but they still needed a third piece on the perimeter. The Suns have thrown plenty of resources at the position in the last few seasons, including signing veteran Trevor Ariza as a one-year stopgap as Bridges, Warren and Josh Jackson develop.

    McDonough said he felt he was right with the Ayton selection. The advanced data so far shows he might also be right in trading for Bridges on draft night.

    Team Rating Per 100 Possessions (through Nov. 21) Offensive Rating On Offensive Rating Off Defensive Rating On Defensive Rating Off
    Mikal Bridges 111.1 101.8 108.3 122.2
    TJ Warren 108.7 101.3 118.7 113.6
    Josh Jackson 102.3 107.5 119.0 115.2

     

    The Suns are better on both ends of the floor with Bridges on the court. Warren elevates the team offensively, but both he and Jackson are defensive liabilities. Bridges boosts Phoenix’s production on both ends, making him a viable third foundational piece. His length defensively allows him to get in passing lanes and create steals. Bridges can also pick up the opponent’s best perimeter scorer, taking a defensive burden off Booker.

    Most importantly, Bridges has experience winning a championship. For a team approaching a decade without postseason play, it’s good to have a player who knows what a winning team looks like.

    “Just a mindset,” Bridges said on building a championship culture. “Know how much you got to give up to win, how you approach every single day … Try to bring that towards the team.”

    It’s early and Bridges will need more time with the starting unit to develop, but the Suns appear to have finally found their third star in the making.

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