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Mikal Bridges long arms can’t quite catch All-Defense bid

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Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges received the 11th most votes in a 10-man field

Golden State Warriors v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Phoenix Suns have been great all season, but a 10-year absence from the NBA’s biggest stage of the postseason has most everyone on the team coming up just short of winning postseason awards.

The Suns had the league’s 2nd-best overall record, 6th best offense, 6th best defense, and became the first team to win their way into the Conference Finals after beating both of last year’s Conference Finalists (Lakers, Nuggets) with an 8-2 record in the first two rounds of the 2021 Playoffs.

But skepticism from national media has reigned all year long, and is creeping its way into their postseason awards voting.

Suns head coach Monty Williams won the Coach of the Year vote among his NBA coaching peers, but finished second in media voting to New York’s Tom Thibodeau who coached his team to the league’s 11th-best record.

In All-Star voting this February, Suns guard Devin Booker was voted 4th among West guards by his NBA player peers but finished 6th in the media vote which knocked him off the team. He was later named by the Commissioner as an injury replacement. This was the second straight year Booker had to follow that same path to the All-Star game.

Mikal Bridges not on All-Defense Teams

And now Mikal Bridges, nicknamed The Warden for locking down the opponent’s best offensive player most nights, just barely missed out on making first or second team All-Defense.

In voting revealed just today, Bridges received the 11th most votes for All-Defense team. Only 10 players are recognized for All-Defense each year.

The 76ers finished the season in 1st place in the Eastern Conference, had the league’s 3rd best record (49-23) and the league’s 2nd best defense. As a reward for that 2nd-best defense, the 76ers have THREE players on the All-Defense teams — Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Matisse Thybulle.

Here’s a breakdown of the league’s top defenses, per NBA.com advanced stats, and the number of players named to the two All-Defense teams.

  1. Lakers (0)
  2. 76ers (3)
  3. Jazz (1)
  4. Knicks (0)
  5. Warriors (1)
  6. Suns (0)
  7. Grizzlies (0)
  8. Clippers (1)
  9. Bucks (2)
  10. Heat (2)

Think reputation and narrative matters more than anything else?

Yeah me too.

The Lakers were only missing players on here because of injury (Anthony Davis, LeBron James), but the upstart Knicks, Suns and Grizzlies all getting ignored for lower-ranked defenses stinks entirely of voting based on multi-year reputation.

Matisse Thybulle (76ers) is the only first-timer among the top 10. Thybulle is a second-year wing who’s only job is to play defense. He’s a very talented defender, but plays only 20 minutes per game coming off the bench for the 76ers because he is so dramatically inept on the offensive end that they can’t trust him with bigger minutes.

Bridges is an excellent defender too, AND he is a starter who plays 30+ minutes a game because he’s good on both ends of the court.

In his third NBA season, Bridges finished with his best total in defensive win shares (2.6) and second-best mark in defensive box score plus/minus (0.8). His block percentage (1.4 percent) and foul percentage (2.1 percent) ranked in the 95th and 92nd percentile, respectively, of players at his position, according to Cleaning the Glass.

Bridges has often guarded the Suns’ top opposing offensive wing this season, including Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James and Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. in this postseason. Of players on remaining playoff teams who play at least 25 minutes per game, Bridges ranks ninth in defensive efficiency, according to NBA.com.

“Mikal is something else,” Suns starting center Deandre Ayton said previously. “He’s, [as known as], ‘The Warden.’ That dude has sacrificed a lot, he plays hard and that’s just a great teammate to have. He’s a guy who listens, and he’s guarding the best player [expletive] near every night.”

Bridges received the 11th most votes in the polling, which awards 2 points for each first-team vote and 1 point for each second-team vote. Bridges had more first-team votes than Thybulle but got a lot fewer second-team votes.

Chris Paul, who has made All-Defense team NINE times in his career, got two first-team votes and a few second-team votes. Jae Crowder got a second team vote. No other Suns got votes.

Yet, Mikal Bridges took the Monty Williams’ cue and told everyone how happy he was to even be considered among the best.

The All-Defense votes came out one day after the Suns swept the Denver Nuggets in the second round of the playoffs and now have to wait for their opponent in the Western Conference Finals to be decided among the Jazz and Clippers (who both have All-Defense players on their teams, by the way).

The Suns are 8-2 in the playoffs and halfway to winning the franchise’s first championship.

Mikal is, for the moment and for good reason, happy on the farm.