Mikal Bridges is the latest winner of the Dan Majerle Hustle Award, an annual tradition by the Phoenix Suns that rewards the player who personifies hustle best. Honestly, you couldn’t think of a better candidate to win it than Bridges.
The 22-year-old rookie, who is already the Suns’ best defender, has pulled off plenty of sequences throughout the season that led to him winning this award in his first season. Bridges joined Josh Jackson from last year as back-to-back rookies to secure this team honor, and he joked around in the locker room postgame he was going to tag Jackson on Instagram posts that featured the trophy.
In 79 games thus far, 53 starts, Bridges averaged 8.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.6 steals on a 55.6 true shooting percentage. According to Basketball-Reference, Bridges joined Kerry Kittles and Shane Battier — no, Donovan Mitchell isn’t a wing, he’s a guard — as the only rookie forwards in NBA history to accumulate 100 steals, 100 three-pointers, and 100 assists in a season.
For Bridges, who is used to team success after winning two national championships at Villanova, winning this award is terrific because it shows he truly does whatever it takes to win. That was one of the main reasons the Suns were so attracted to Bridges during the pre-draft process in the first place.
“It means a lot,” Bridges said. “Just shows how hard I play out there, just do whatever it takes to win, playing as hard as I can for my teammates. It’s not just me, my teammates, coaches, they all voted for me. I appreciate them for that and (I’m) happy they see me out there trying to do whatever it takes to get a win and play as hard as I can.”
What Bridges does to prepare behind the scenes, when the cameras and media aren’t around, is just as important as the hustle plays we see. The Suns’ No. 10 pick from the 2018 draft wasn’t aiming for personal accolades, gunning for numbers to make All-Rookie teams.
As the true team player he is, Bridges focused on overall improvement every day. And he believes lots of progress has been made since the beginning of the season, which I totally agree with. Bridges has flashed exciting potential as a secondary playmaker on top of becoming more aggressive with scoring moves recently.
“My main goal this year with my rookie season wasn’t make no rookie teams. Just go out there and see myself improve every day. Seeing how I started the season to where I’m at now, I’ve really seen myself improve a lot. And it’s only up from here.”
The only player in Suns franchise history who has achieved this accolade multiple times was P.J. Tucker, who did it four straight seasons (2012-2016). Is Bridges gunning for a repeat next year? Absolutely, and I wouldn’t be shocked if his streak extends past Tucker.
“Oh yeah, for sure. I’m gonna try to see how many (awards) I get while I’m here, so this is one so far. Try to get the next one next year.”
The price in the end to trade up for Bridges on draft night was the unprotected Miami 2021 first-round pick via the Goran Dragic trade plus the rights to Zhaire Smith. It was seen as an overpay at the time, but now, it sure looks like the Suns are well on their way to winning that deal.
Bridges has proven he’s an untouchable asset already for the Suns, and his upside is much higher than many people originally thought. During the 2019-20 campaign, I’m expecting even more from Bridges.