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Analytics show Mikal Bridges’ unique profile is only ascending

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Bridges didn’t make an All-Rookie team, but the advanced metrics show he’s poised for a huge leap in Year 2.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

I’m still conducting the Mikal Bridges has more upside than you believe hype train over a year after I fawned over his college tape at Villanova. As was showcased all throughout his rookie season, Bridges’ defensive prowess is already bordering on elite. He not only could check wings when called upon, but also successfully harass primary ball handlers like Russell Westbrook and Donovan Mitchell.

If you only followed the Phoenix Suns via box scores last season, the true impact of Bridges wasn’t felt unless you saw it with your own eyes night-in, night-out. Bridges averaged 8.3 points, 2.1 assists, and 1.6 steals in 29.5 minutes, but led the Suns in total minutes played as his valuable winning traits were sorely missed whenever he wasn’t on the floor.

Diving into the advanced metrics show Bridges is on the cusp of a full-fledged breakout sophomore campaign with a few improvements offensively, which should occur with simply more plays run through him. Many complained about Deandre Ayton’s inconsistent inside touches under Igor Kokoskov, but the jaw-droppingly low usage rate of Bridges was inexcusable. There’s no reason why the No. 10 overall pick from the 2018 draft should have a 12.2 USG% when there was little win-now talent surrounding him outside of Booker and Ayton.

When comparing Bridges’ statistical profile to other wings around the Association, only two others compiled +55 TS%, +9 AST%, +2.5 STL% alongside the Suns’ rookie: Paul George and Jimmy Butler. Both of these All-NBA talents started their careers off slow, but quickly mastered other aspects to become well-rounded players on both ends of the floor. And if you limit it to only rookies over the last 25 years, two players pulled off this intriguing advanced stats combination for wings: Bridges and Andre Iguodala.

After one season, the floor of Bridges seems to be crystallizing into an elite role player who does all the smart dirty work a la Iguodala and Shane Battier. For example, both Battier and Iguodala were two-time All-Defensive players. There’s no reason to believe why Bridges won’t soon join that club, or maybe even surpass them if his rookie season production increases.

Bridges’ ceiling is something completely different, though, which should make many Suns fans giddy. If the offensive side finally clicks and reverts back to the Villanova version, which was a career 40 percent three-point shooter, he’s an All-Star level talent.

In only 21 games last season where he attempted nine or more shots per game — again, that’s an inexcusable amount — Bridges averaged 12.8 points, 2.9 assists, 1.8 steals, and 0.6 blocks. A slight uptick in aggressiveness would go a long way towards Bridges taking his game to an entirely different level.

Following that progression curve would show Bridges going down the path of a player like Victor Oladipo, a late bloomer who saw his scoring capabilities finally catch up to his elite quick-twitch defensive potential after multiple pitstops in Orlando and Oklahoma City. Iguodala is also a comparison everyone made with Josh Jackson, but it’s ironic how Bridges has quickly taken that mold and ran with it.

Organizing all of the players who could fit into Bridges’ possible outcomes, check out how he compared to the likes of Iguodala, Battier, Butler, and George below via Basketball-Reference.

Possessing a rare work ethic like Bridges does, who spent his entire offseason adding bulk onto his frame and refining his shooting mechanics, doubt him at your own risk. Once it clicks for him, his two-way game is going to bloom more towards the All-Star, All-NBA level talents the advance metrics put him side-by-side against.

Another aspect as to why Bridges should see a big jump in 2019-20 is the talent surrounding him.

We can all hammer home the asset management wasn’t the best, but Suns GM James Jones had a specific plan and made sure to follow it. Out are players who didn’t contribute to winning with empty calorie production like Jackson, T.J. Warren, and Dragan Bender. In are high-IQ rotation pieces who will fit and adapt to their situations, and these five check that box with emphasis: Cameron Johnson, Dario Saric, Ty Jerome, Ricky Rubio, and Aron Baynes.

Even though he’s flying under the radar again compared to his teammates, don’t be shocked if Bridges is the one who benefits the most from the summer roster overhaul. All of the numbers are there to prove his long-term worth, but an increase in aggressiveness and perimeter shooting production will show us a new version of the Suns’ promising two-way wing.