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NBA: Indiana Pacers at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Mikal Bridges has to step up his offensive load in face of injuries

With Crowder and Payne both out for the near future with wrist injuries, Bridges needs to pick up more of an offensive load.

Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges tied his season-high in points in Saturday night’s win over the Indiana Pacers with 23, adding 4 assists as well.

He flashed some of the on-ball creation that many expected would come more consistently in this, his fourth, season in the NBA. Though most of those creation opportunities came before Jae Crowder left with a wrist injury in the third quarter, it stands to reason that Bridges is well-equipped to pick up some scoring volume with Crowder and Payne both set to miss at least the next game.

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The 23-point output couldn’t have come at a better time, with the volume already a little bit ramped up.

Low volume, high efficiency

Among Suns who have logged at least 200 minutes this season, Bridges ranks second in field goal percentage (50.5%) and third in three-point percentage (37.7%), but is all the way down at 10th in shot attempts (13.4) per 100 possessions.

Now it’s no secret that Bridges is asked to do a lot defensively, and that’s likely the biggest reason why the volume is so low offensively. Per BBall Index, Bridges ranks in the 99th percentile for matchup difficulty.

He’s proven to be able to handle it, and he’s made a good case already to appear on his first career All-Defense team at the end of the season, ranking 24th in the league in defensive rating among players who log at least 25 minutes per game.

But with 19.9 points and 5.0 assists per game in the form of Crowder and Payne missing for the near future, now might be the time for that offensive load to be a little more weighty for the time being.

What can he bring with more volume?

Much of the shot creation during Saturday’s 23-point game came when driving toward the rim. I’m always impressed with the way Bridges leverages his body to create optimal lanes, especially ones that allow him to use his length to finish over defenders, like he does here:

That length also helps when his slender frame is absorbing contact, and he’s able to keep the ball out of harm’s way, like on this and-one bucket:

And once defenders start respecting the threat of him driving more – like Indiana was in the second half of this game – he’s able to turn that into opportunities for others, like with this nice pocket pass to JaVale McGee:

I’ve been begging all season to see more chances for Bridges – and Cam Johnson for that matter, who may also step up his offensive load – to run pick-and-roll possessions, so hopefully we see more of that as well.

The reality of the situation is that this is a sweaty time for Suns fans, with injuries seeming to pile up in the forms of the ankle of Deandre Ayton and the wrists of Crowder and Payne. That’s what makes the 3.5 games worth of breathing room over the next closest team in the league, let alone the West, so valuable. The Suns are now riding a six-game win streak, which is twice as long as any other win streak in the league.

They’re a capable team with a lot of depth. That depth has stepped up before, and it will likely do so again! Selfishly – and for the purpose of this article – I hope Bridges takes a big step up as well.

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