The NBA revealed its finalists for all of the major awards for the 2022 NBA season. Two Phoenix Suns players made the final three for an end-of-season award, though neither of them is Devin Booker.
The ‘twins’ Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson are finalists for Defensive Player of the Year and Sixth Man of the Year, respectively.
Tyler Herro is the betting favorite by far for the Sixth Man award, but it’s nice to see the media recognize Cameron Johnson as of the league’s most accurate three-point shooters who’s also a two-way player that can make a difference on the defensive end as well.
Johnson posted career highs across the board with points (12.5), rebounds (4.1), assists (1.5) and shooting splits of 46/43/86 in 26 minutes per game off the bench, which ranked 6th on the team.
His teammate Bridges has a slightly better shot at winning the DPOY. He broke out during the 2021 season and proved he is going to be an elite role player in this league for a long time. But in 2022 he came back to have his best season yet.
While the numbers this season are almost identical to last, Bridges defense has clearly improved and is a major reason for the Suns’ success.
Last season the Suns (with the same, healthier roster) had a defensive rating of 110.4 good for 6th in the league. This year the Suns had a defensive rating of 106.8 which ranked 3rd.
Now we can’t attribute all of that to Bridges obviously but he is the teams best defensive player so it is only fair to give him his fair share of the credit.
Bridges paced the team in both defensive win shares and in on-off rating (stat that measures how much better or worse the team is with X player on the floor).
With Mikal on the floor, the Suns are almost 10 points better per 100 possessions. For reference, Chris Paul and Devin Booker’s on-off ratings are +5.4 and +4.8. Those are nearly half as good as Bridges.
A lot of this has to do with Bridges having the least replaceable skillset on the team (ironically enough).
Paul’s playmaking and Booker’s scoring are the two major offensive components for the Suns but on a game-to-game basis the Suns have figured out how to pull that production virtually out of thin air when the dynamic duo is on the bench.
However, nobody on the team can switch and defend the way Bridges can and that’s what makes him such a special perimeter defender and a worthy DPOY contender, even if he doesn’t win it.
Suns head coach Monty Williams was named among the three finalists for the media-voted Coach of the Year, a week after winning his coaching fraternity’s version of the same award.
Teammate Devin Booker was not, however, listed as a top-three finalist for Most Valuable Player. Booker was widely considered the 4th guy in a three-man race behind all-world centers Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo.