It’s no secret at this point. Mikal Bridges is an elite defender.
He has taken on the opponent’s top perimeter scoring option night in, night out and excelled at making them uncomfortable and disrupting their flow throughout the game. This was a common theme throughout the regular season, but during the Bubble it was amplified when he took on the likes of Luka Doncic, Kawhi Leonard, T.J. Warren, Jayson Tatum (scrimmage), and many others during their magical 8-0 run in Orlando. What came with the winning? Recognition.
The good news is, there should be plenty more of that this season and if the Suns defense is as stout as they have a chance to be, it’s a very real possibility that Mikal Bridges will solidify himself as a top 15 defensive talent in the NBA.
In his first two seasons, Mikal Bridges finished in the top 10 in the NBA in total deflections each season. His rookie season he finished 7th (223) and last season he wound up 9th (203). Bridges’ new running mate Chris Paul actually finished 3rd (234) in total deflections and 1st in defensive loose balls recovered last year for the Thunder. With how many loose balls figure to be in play with their aggressive, versatile defensive scheme in place, those numbers should only rise for both CP3 and Mikal.
2.4 STL%, 2.0 BLK%, 2.3 Defensive win shares, 1.5 Defensive Box Plus/Minus.
Last season, the two all-defense teams were comprised of 4 bigs, 2 forwards, and 4 guards. The positional labels don’t seem to matter all that much, as it’s comprised of a mixture of multi-positional guys, so it’s clear they are focused on selecting the best defenders regardless of where they play.
1st Team: Rudy Gobert, Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Marcus Smart, Ben Simmons
2nd Team: Brook Lopez, Bam Adebayo, Kawhi Leonard, Patrick Beverley, Eric Bledsoe
Just missed: Kris Dunn, P.J. Tucker, Jimmy Butler
Bridges’ best bet to enter this field would be if he was registered as a guard, as it’s fairly conceivable he could swipe one of Bledsoe or Beverley’s spots as a 2 guard, and with how loose the positional recognition seems to be it’s a possibility he could get labeled as a guard/wing though he’ll primarily play at the forward position. He should be right on that doorstep and at the very least finish top 15 in voting overall, as I believe this will not only be the best Suns team he’s been on, but the best defensive team he’s been on by far which should only further his case when it comes time to vote.
The Case for All-Defense
The quickest way to get recognition and respect around the league (as we saw in the bubble) is simply winning basketball games. Shocker. This year Phoenix is poised to make a playoff leap and Bridges will be a starter and key contributor for a hungry Suns team on the rise. The more relevant the Suns are, the more folks around the league will take notice of him taking on the number 1 assignment throughout the year. Not only will he be in consideration for an all-defensive team, but I think he will be in the mix for the Most Improved Player of the year as well in large part to not only his leap, but the team’s leap as well.
2. National Spotlight
Phoenix will be playing in more nationally televised games next season than they have in quite some time, and that goes a long way as most of the voters are national writers that otherwise wouldn’t go out of their way to watch a ton of Phoenix Suns basketball. Bridges will get a chance to display exactly what he brings to the table on the big stage time and time again, and that’s the best way to garner attention on the national scale.
Be ready for plenty more of this version of Mikal next season with another year of experience under his belt.