Mikal Bridges had one of those games on Friday night.
The Phoenix Suns beat the New Orleans Pelicans 124-111 on ESPN and were led in scoring not by Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, or Chris Paul. They were led by the 27 points from Bridges on elite shooting — 7-8 2P, 3-5 3P, 4-4 FT — but he wasn’t just scoring.
He added in four assists — including some real highlights — to only one turnover, and he absolutely filled up the sheet on the defensive end: 1 steal and 3 blocks.
However, my favorite part about Mikal’s night was the “takeover” nature of his night. He had a few sequences that involved multiple scores and turnovers forced. When guys start to take over games early in their offensive development — like Bridges is when you consider his expanding repertoire and task sheet — that’s when it’s okay to buy into a real ceiling. The sequences in question?
1. Late in the first half, layup finishing a pick-and-roll (assisted by Chris Paul), sprinting back to get in front of and block CJ McCollum, then a made corner three (assisted by Bismack Biyombo) after a missed two.
2. In the third, steps into a three (assisted by Booker), intercepts a pass and finds his twin Cam Johnson in transition with a half-court bounce pass, block on the other end (shoutout ESPN’s broadcast for being more focused on Duane Washington Jr.), before the gravity of Bridges opens a shot up for Paul (who misses it).
I’m not one of the people in Mikal Hive who have always believed he was on a Kawhi-esque trajectory like others have, and I’m still not quite to that point, but stretches like these where Mikal can bend the game to his will are really promising when thinking about his ceiling.
Mikal’s star equity is further supported by self-creation flashes like this one, where he improvises a bit to find a gorgeous stepback middy:
The Suns are still running plays to get him involved off ball, and he was lethal when getting the ball in rhythm:
Mikal is always a killer in the paint, and this season is no different. Through five games, he’s shooting 76.0% at the rim, which is the 15th best mark across the league, per Synergy.
It was also his third game in five tries with at least 4 assists. Including the one mentioned earlier to Johnson, Bridges set up teammates in a variety of ways. There was this outlet ahead to Booker:
...this dumpoff in the paint to Torrey Craig, who’s shooting the lights out so far:
...and as icing on the cake, this alley to Biyombo’s oop (after Biyombo’s two assists both went to Bridges threes, this was the third connection between the two Suns):
After this game, Bridges is already averaging career-highs in points (15.4), rebounds (6.0), assists (3.4), and field goal percentage (62.0%).
We’ve already seen the same sort of strong early start from Deandre Ayton (before the injury), so if both 2018 top 10 picks can have career years and insert themselves into All-Star discourse, the Suns should be in a good spot.