For the past year or so, the only players talked about nationally on the lowly Phoenix Suns were Devin Booker for his scoring, Deandre Ayton for his not-Luka-draft-status and Kelly Oubre Jr. for his pushups.
Few people outside the diehard Suns fan circle have taken more than passing interest in the Praying Mantis himself, Mr. Mikal Bridges.
Bridges has been balling out on defense for going on two seasons now. But his offense has been so anemic that you just aren’t going to get noticed unless you’re locking someone down in the playoffs or on primetime national TV and we all know the Suns haven’t sniffed either of those things in a while.
But then the Orlando Bubble happened. And Mikal figured out how to be aggressive on offense, finishing 8th in scoring with 18.7 points per game on 61.8% shooting, including 53.8% on threes.
Now he’s getting noticed. Some of my favorite NBA podcasters and writers have taken turns noting Mikal’s impact.
Sam Vecenie - host of Game Theory podcast, writer for The Athletic
“Mikal Bridges is going to make the All-Defense team next year. It’s going to require voters figuring out how good he is on defense.”
“I fucked up, not putting him on my Top-50 Rookie Scale Guys ranking. That’s my bad. Phoenix fans, this is my apology. I’m sorry. That was bad.”
Sam is a closet Suns fan. He was one of Deandre Ayton’s biggest national supporters for the past two years (had Ayton only 14th on this list though), but now is coming around on Bridges too.
“The way that he mirrors other wings’ footwork is insane. The way that he uses his length to recover and contest is insane. Everything that he does on defense, I just love. He’s so good at getting into little passing lanes. He’s actually a pretty real weak side rotational threat.”
“I think there’s a good chance we talk about him in the same way that we talked about Jonathan Isaac this year.”
Sam ranked Isaac 17th on his Rookie Scale rankings despite Isaac not really making a big difference offensively.
“By the way, if Mikal Bridges is going to make the All-Defense team next year, he has to beat out all of Jonathan Isaac, O.G. Anunoby, Kawhi Leonard, all of these great defenders across the NBA. Some of whom aren’t going to make the All-Defense team this year.”
“Mikal Bridges is an absolute monster. [Locking up Jayson Tatum in the Phx-Bos scrimmage] made me go back and really watch a lot Mikal Bridges tape yesterday. I was like, okay, how badly did I fuck up on my Top 50 Rookie Scale guys? I even watch a lot of Phoenix. I thought Deandre Ayton was really good on defense this year. It was a blind spot apparently.”
Dave DuFour - guest on Game Theory with Sam, podder and writer for The Athletic
“They’ve got him doing a little bit more with the ball in his hands, which is going to be hugely important for them. He’s already a defensive nightmare. He can confidently shoot threes. That dude is good. That dude is really good.”
“He’s a legitimate ceiling-raiser for that team, if everything starts coming together.”
Zach Lowe - host of Lowe Post podcast, writer for ESPN
“He is the kind of player who will be able to be on the floor in the NBA Finals if he’s your fifth option on offense. Because he does everything you want out of that player type. He’s longer than my office, he’s shooting threes okay this year...that’s the one that’s got to come up...he’s shown a little bit of aggression off the dribble. He can defend lots of positions.”
“Mikal Bridges is good. He’s gonna be a winning player.”
John Hollinger - writer and podder for The Athletic
“I’ve put Schröder first on my ballot and Wood second, but instead of Harrell my third spot goes to another overlooked bench weapon – Phoenix’s Mikal Bridges. He played all 65 games and came off the bench in 41 of them, which is enough. He also featured prominently in nearly all of the Suns’ best lineups. While he was frustratingly reluctant offensively, defensively he’s emerged as one of the best wings in the league.”
Ricky Rubio on Bridges
“We saw progression by the end of the season. It feels like another season now, and he had time to really improve his game. He’s playing with a lot of confidence.”
“We have to understand that defense is going to take us to the next level.”
Let’s watch Mikal’s improvement on offense.
And now, because you probably don’t watch defense as closely as offense, here’s a great vid by our podding friends at The Timeline
Watch out, NBA.
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