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The rise of Mikal Bridges: Why the two-way specialist is so crucial for the Phoenix Suns

The Suns are fortunate to have such a gifted young player in Mikal Bridges
The Suns are fortunate to have such a gifted young player in Mikal Bridges
ANALYST

Naturally gifted

Mikal Bridges is a gift to the NBA. Ever so often, a player naturally all encompassing on the floor hits the NBA, and while many need to adjust to the big time, some are simply ready and eventually become so versatile everyone notices. Mikal Brides seems as if he's the next great 2-way player.

He plays stifiling defense and fights through screens to ensure his man is not the one who scores. He has also become a team defender that coaches admire. Bridges fights hard though screens on every possession, making his teammates jobs much easier defensively.

In a conference where points are forever at a premium, having the advantage of a player defensively focused is how teams win games in late clock situations and in the playoffs.

Dependable

Mikal Bridges is a steady player; a fixture; one that coaches depend on without command. One who just wins no matter what the level. One who coaches use as an example because they can handle the whole weight of leadership responsibilities. His college coach at Villanova, Hall of Famer Jay Wright, was very proud of Mikal Bridges' ability to humble himself out of high school and sacrifice offensively to become stellar on defense. He had a career-high defensive win share mark of 2.3 last season.

Joe Juliano of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote about Mikal Bridges while he starred at Villanova: "If there is such a thing as a five-tool player in college basketball, Mikal Bridges is the model."

Incentivized

The Warden, as he's called for locking down the opposition's best offensive player, was 11th in All-NBA defense, and just missed out on being honored accordingly. Ahh shoulder chips. Mikal Bridges knows shoulder chips. His mom, Tyneeha Rivers, works for the Sixers in HR and after drafting him 10th overall, he was traded to the Suns. Bittersweet moment, for Philadelphia sees Mikal Bridges as a legend after winning two titles as a stifiling wing on the Villanova Wildcats.

The Sixers loss, was James Jones' gain.

James Jones deserved NBA Executive of the Year. The team he's put together from top to bottom culminated in the Phoenix Suns playoff run that saw them reach the NBA Finals for the first time since Charles Barkley led the Suns to a 6 game loss to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in 1993.

New Suns

Hard work pays off. Defenders are born. Some are made, yet those with a built-in defensive sense without any encouragement develop into the reason teams win games in June. Mikal Bridges ranks 4th in matchup difficulty -- a stat that measures the quality of player a defender is matchuped against. It's a stat that doesn't really rate the defender, but more the defensive assignment.

Mikal Bridges is trusted defensively.

Phoenix ended the 2020-21 season 7th in opposing-points-per-game (109.5) and 9th in defensive rating (111.3). The Suns held 12 opponents under 50% shooting -- good for 21% of regular season games, and Mikal Bridges was that piece Monty Williams plugged in at any time to shure up the defense.

That deadly Chris Paul/Devin Booker pick and roll is then executed, and the Suns won 51 and lost just 21 games.

The 6'6" 209 pound Mikal Bridges, whose birthday was yesterday, August 30th, has increased his numbers since entering the league in 2018. The four minute increase in playing time saw his points per game go from 9 to 13. Mikal Bridges is a 54% shooter from the field -- including 43% from the arc, and 84% from the line.

Mikal Bridges 50/40/90?

Yeah, 50/40/90 will eventually be a stat associated with Mikal Bridges, and so will the potential triple-doubles. It's something to track because Mikal Bridges is all over the floor in a controlled sense giving comfort to his teammates that have depended on him from NBA game one.

Edited by Arnav Kholkar
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