The Phoenix Suns at times this season have had a hard time finding a third scorer to help Devin Booker and Chris Paul close games. Deandre Ayton was assumed to be the answer, but even in clutch minutes Ayton will fall back to watch the offense and focus his energy on rebounding. Sometimes, he might be watching from the bench, depending on the effort.
When it comes to clutch, the Suns have their two guys to rely on, but every night is asking too much from both Booker and Paul. The third man needs to step up and that is Mikal Bridges.
This is nitpicking, but with the playoffs coming sooner rather than later, the Suns might need to force Bridges hand in becoming that third guy.
Bridges’ game has expanded from 3-and-D to “do whatever the hell he wants to.” His length is now being used to his advantage on the offensive end of the floor.
Suns Television Play-By-Play announcer, Kevin Ray, pointed out that Bridges is shooting better than 73% from inside the stripe after the All-Star break, before the Miami Heat game. Another addition to the Monsters of the Mid-Range crew originally founded by Booker and Paul. But even the 3-point shot from Bridges started to gain more attraction before the All-Star break.
The handles of Bridges catching the ball in traffic and even taking the ball from one end to the other on fast breaks opens up the pick-and-roll option as well. The ability to handle the ball in traffic and maneuver around bodies is a good recipe for ½ of a pick-and-roll option. Known as a great cutter to the rim, Bridges catches defenses off balance when he can. The pick-and-roll can’t just be thrown out there as an idea by me, and the Suns have to execute right away. It will be another addition to Bridges game that will continue to expand into next season.
A lot of comparisons between Bridges and Shawn Marion have been thrown out there for the fact that plays are not run for Bridges and everything is earned by hustle. This is very true, but how long can we save the very best of Bridges offensive game. The best would be the mismatches in the paint leading to the fade away that is efficient and I am unsure if I have seen him miss the shot.
Consistency is the word of the year when it comes to the Suns. Can Ayton be consistent? Can Coach Monty Williams play the starting line-up consistently without rotating players in-and-out of the Power Forward position? Consistency is something that Bridges has added. Smart plays and smart shots are leading to what we are seeing on the floor.
I am not saying that I want Bridges to have the ball in his hands with 10 seconds left in a game with the score tied… or maybe I am. The ball just goes in. And if it’s a shot from 12-feet away, that is a layup for the guy and around the rim, the use of his long arms is almost un-guardable.
Statmuse.com shows Bridges shot chart with in the paint. Under the rim, 71.2% is towards the top in the league and closer to the circle, in only 35 attempts, he is shooting 48.6%.
Only 33 attempts from the area above. Those shot attempts will continue to increase.
If the game was coming down to a last second shot, I would feel comfortable with Bridges getting the nod to take the ball to the rim and see what happens. We do have Paul and Booker to take the last heave, but getting the rim is something we are seeing Bridges continue to improve on.
The Isolation game will come next for Bridges, and when that happens, he will be truly un-guardable.
Until we can really trust Ayton to dominate under the rim and knock down the 18-footer, the ball needs to land in Bridges hands when the game matters.