We’re almost through Mikal Bridges’s rookie season, but one thing is already becoming pretty clear: the Suns’ No. 10 pick will be part of the next great squad in the Valley. Too many times already has Bridges blown me away with not only making just smart reads, a pleasant sight to behold with recent history, but how special of a defender he could become in short order.
As Bridges continues to get more comfortable on the offensive end — currently carrying a measly usage rate of 12.3 percent — his translatable skills from Villanova are paying immediate dividends on the professional level ranging from overall team defense to true switch ability versus various body types.
Bridges isn’t posting eye-popping numbers in the box score, but, if you dig deeper, you will quickly realize how unique the 22-year-old wing is.
For rookies playing a minimum 1,000 minutes since 2000, only four players qualified for thresholds exceeding plus-2.5 steal percentage, plus-1 block rate and plus-55 true shooting clip: Andrei Kirilenko, Andre Iguodala, Kawhi Leonard and Bridges. The trio listed before Phoenix’s second lottery selection from the 2018 draft class went on to make multiple appearances on All-NBA Defensive teams throughout their careers.
This also puts a light on what Bridges’s floor could be turning into. If his defensive floor is an Iguodala/Kirilenko type, that’s one way to help flip the Suns to at least becoming average on the defensive end long-term. Leonard’s accelerated development under the Spurs’ leadership seems to be an outlier, but I’m not betting against Bridges when he’s already flashing skills (pro-ready secondary playmaking ability and off the dribble laser beam shots with no space allowed before he releases it) I didn’t even notice much with the Wildcats under legendary head coach Jay Wright.
What I wanted to highlight below in today’s 2-Minute Drill, though, is Bridges’s lock down ability as an on-ball defender. So far, all of the following notable names around the league have been put on what I call the ‘Clamp List’: Russell Westbrook, DeMar DeRozan, Kemba Walker, Luka Doncic, James Harden, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, and Stephen Curry.
That’s arguably the most impressive thing I’ve charted so far with Phoenix’s stealth swiper.