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Suns Player Preview: Mikal Bridges is poised for a breakout season

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Mikal Bridges. That is all.

NBA: Finals-Milwaukee Bucks at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the 2021-22 Phoenix Suns Season Preview series, starting with individual PLAYER PREVIEWS. We go through the roster, recapping last year and analyzing how they can help the Suns in their upcoming championship push.

The emphasis is different this year. We are no longer laser-focused on the highest upside or praying for highlight endorphin spikes. Instead, we are looking to how this almost-the-same roster will perform a year older, a year wiser, a year more physically mature.

Mikal Bridges

Wing/Forward, 6’7” tall, 210 pounds, 25 years old

Recap

Mikal Bridges aka the ironman played in and started all 72 regular-season games for the Phoenix Suns. He also started all 22 playoff games for the Suns, continuing his impressive run of durability early on in his career. He hasn’t missed a game in his NBA or collegiate career, which is truly incredible in this day and age.

Stats

The improvement across the board was fun to watch from Mikal. It wasn’t a gigantic leap, but the gradual improvement was promising, and if he can continue to make progress like this year-to-year, by the time he enters his prime he’s going to be a very complete player.

  • 19-20: 9.1 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.6 BPG on 51/36/84 shooting splits + 62 TS%.
  • 20-21: 13.5 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.9 BPG on 54/42/84 shooting splits + 66 TS%.

Overall Grade as an NBA Player: B

Grade relative to preseason expectations: B

Contract Details

Bridges is entering the final year of his rookie contract and is due for an extension that should come any time now. He will make $5,557,725 next season and then become a restricted free agent if he’s not extended before next offseason.

His qualifying offer is $7,569,621 and cap hold sits at $16,673,175. I expect his extension to be somewhere in that 4-year, ~$80-95 million range, earning $20+ million per year.

Weaknesses

It’s no secret at this point, Mikal Bridges is really good at basketball. However, there is one area in his game that needs to be unlocked one layer at a time, and it starts with getting 5-10% better offensively every year. Offensive confidence and aggression on a consistent basis will be the key to his development, and that starts with the mid-range and pull-up jumpers.

At his height with his length, if he’s able to get to his spots off-the-dribble and hit jumpers consistently, he’ll be a nightmare to guard. Teams already have to worry about both running him off the three-point line and his sharp, instinctual cutting off the ball, so if he can add that next element to his game (mid-range) then we’re talking about a fairly complete offensive player.

The playmaking is also something I think can improve, not to say he’s not a good playmaker, but more so that I believe there’s more in the tank than he’s been able to fully display to this point.

Strengths

Defense. Anyone that watches Mikal Bridges gets it by now, he is a menace defensively. A silent assassin that bothers and pesters the opponent’s best player on a nightly basis. Do not take what he does on that end for granted, because it’s exhausting to do over the course of the regular season and a deep playoff run like Phoenix just had.

Shooting. The hitch is long gone. Mikal posted an impressive True Shooting Percent of 66.7 last year and shot 42% from three-point range.

Cutting. There may not be a better cutter than Bridges in the NBA. Yes, he’s that good. Not only is his timing, instincts, and relocation ability elite, but he’s a top-tier finisher. His two-point field goal percentage is a testament to this, as he shot 64.7% on twos last season, which is absurd.

Key Factor

Adding functional core strength/filling out his frame.

The is the key to Bridges being able to guard “up” positionally or take on larger wings defensively is strength. Adding useful strength that can be applied towards basketball situations in the key, not just bulking up for the hell of it.

This will also aid him in taking a leap with his finishing ability, especially through contact. He’s already an elite finisher around the rim with his limbs wrapping around defenders, but if he has the option to go through defenders too it makes his finishing game far more complete.

Prediction Time

He finally makes an All-Defense Team. He gets about 5-10% better offensively again and continues to be an extremely valuable piece to this team.