An 0-4 preseason was certainly not an ideal result for the Phoenix Suns. Nonetheless, we learned quite a bit about the crop of talent that James Jones assembled.
Devin Booker looked phenomenal (no surprise). Chris Paul stole everyone’s attention for the two games in which he suited up. Deandre Ayton gave us quite the range of performances.
But to me, by far the most welcome sight from preseason was Mikal Bridges’ newfound aggression.
If you recall, Mikal Bridges took a big step up in the bubble. With no Kelly Oubre Jr., it was imperative that any early-season sheepishness disappear from his game. He averaged 12.8 points on close to 10 FGA per game during that stretch , and impressed with his combination of smartly-timed cuts and efficient outside shooting.
Still, he’s upped his game to a whole new level in preseason.
No, Bridges’ preseason shooting splits of 44/30/80 don’t quite pop off the page. But over a four game sample, efficiency isn’t something we should be concerning ourselves with. It’s all about mindset. And so far, Mikal Bridges’ mindset makes me believe he has another leap in him.
Bridges took 14.6 FGA per 36 minutes in preseason, a very sharp increase from the 8.5 he took last year. That’s the sort of consistent volume that Phoenix will need from him in order to help fill the void left by Kelly Oubre’s absence at the SF spot.
Furthermore, it’s not just about the sheer number of shots; it’s about the shots he chose to take. In case you missed any of the games, check out some of the highlights here. These are all of Bridges’ self-created buckets against the Jazz/Lakers. Some of them are simply fascinating.
Take his pullup three against LeBron, for instance. Last season, Bridges attempted 193 threes. Only six of them were pull ups. Based on that logic, it makes sense why LeBron would be so quick to fall for Bridges’ jab move to the right; pull-up shooting is not something defenders expect from Bridges because it doesn’t appear on his scouting report. But if he can hit that shot with any level of consistency this year, he instantly becomes a menacing offensive talent.
Then there’s the increased comfort we saw from him in the mid-range against Utah. On both plays, we see him make us of an in-and-out snake dribble, in order to get the defender on his hip before he steps back. That’s coming straight out of Booker/Paul’s repertoire, evidence that he’s learning directly from them.
To some, this may seem like flimsy evidence, a few clips ripped from a pathetic sample of preseason games. Is this really something to be encouraged by?
My optimistic side says yes. He simply wasn’t doing any of this consistently in prior seasons, so even the chance that he could reach that new level is a thought that we should gladly entertain.
Between Paul, Booker, and Ayton, nobody expects Mikal Bridges to transform into a 20 PPG scorer. Disruptive defense has always been his primary approach, and that will continue to be his M.O. for the upcoming year.
That being said, the ability to have another three-level scorer after Paul and Booker would be invaluable, and could potentially alleviate the issue of having to stagger those two all the time. Bridges may not have access to the touches and opportunities to be a high-level creator behind those two, but could he become a consistent 13-15 PPG player who buoys the offense in some select lineups?
That’s increasingly looking like a real possibility.