Welcome to our Phoenix Suns Season in Review series where we do individual PLAYER REVIEWS of each man that contributed in the 2021-22 season. We go through the roster to analyze what went right/wrong for them, and what they can do to get better for next season.
Check out all players covered so far here: 2022 Phoenix Suns Player Reviews, including Cameron Johnson, Devin Booker, Chris Paul and more.
- Position: Small Forward
- Vitals: 6’6”, 209 lbs, 25 years old
- Stats: 14.2 points per game, 53.4% shooting overall, 36.9% 3PT, 83.4% free throws, 4.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.2 steals
Take a look at how we previewed Bridges ahead of the 2022 season:
- 2021-2022 Player Previews: Suns Player Preview: Mikal Bridges is poised for a breakout season
Regular Season Recap
The Villanova product turned in another season of perfect attendance, playing and starting in all 82 games this season, extending his streak of consecutive regular-season games played to 309.
Early in the season, his scoring was erratic but efficient, scoring 11.4 points per game and shooting 51.4% from the field from the beginning of the season to the end of 2021.
But after the New Year, Bridges found his stroke and became more involved in the offense. He increased his field goals attempted from 9.2 to 11.4 a game, averaging 15.9 points per game and shooting a smooth 54.6% from the field.
Bridges especially got going after Jan. 27th, as he failed to score 10+ points in only three of the team’s final 25 games, two of which came at the end of the season and had Bridges playing less than half of the game.
His best performance of the season came at the start of this stretch, on Feb. 1st in the Suns’ 121-111 victory over the Brooklyn Nets. Bridges feasted off a bevy of timely cuts and scored 27 points off 10-14 from the field while adding 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, and 1 nasty block on the Nets’ guard Kyrie Irving. Bridges played over 40 minutes on the night in support of Devin Booker, who led the way with 35 points, and Chris Paul, who had 20 points, 14 assists, and 2 steals as well.
While Bridges’ scoring ability and versatility on offense were on full display that night at the Footprint Center, it was his efforts on defense that made the difference that night, as he helped hold James Harden to 6-19 from the field.
(Irrelevant But Interesting Side Note: This was essentially the last true attempt that Harden made to be a productive player on the Nets. The very next night, the team flew to Sacramento to play in the now-infamous game in which Harden shot 2-11 from the field, including 0-5 from downtown, and scored only 4 points in 37 minutes as the Nets lost to the Kings by 11, their sixth loss in a row. Harden did rack up 12 assists, but had 6 turnovers as well to top off what would be his last and arguably worst-ever game as a Brooklyn Net.)
Coming back to Mikal, he was (finally) recognized this season as not just a good perimeter defender, but simply one of the best defenders in the game. Bridges was named to the NBA’s 2022 All-Defensive 1st Team, his first selection to either team. He finished second in the votes for both the 1st Team and the Defensive Player of the Year award, losing out to Marcus Smart of the Boston Celtics.
Bridges had his moments in the first round against the New Orleans Pelicans, with his biggest moment coming in the Suns’ pivotal Game 5 victory. Bridges led the way with 31 points on 12-17 from the field, including a perfect 4-4 from beyond the arc, and added 4 blocks in nearly 47 minutes played to swing the series back in the Suns’ favor.
He also led the team’s efforts to slow down the Pelican’s main scoring threats of C.J. McCollum and Brandon Ingram, holding them to a combined 14-41 from the field and forcing seven turnovers between the two as well.
But against the Mavericks, Bridges was not as effective on offense. Bridges had zero games of 15+ points, averaging just 9.9 points per game and shooting 40.6% from the field and a putrid 27.8% from beyond the arc. His 13 points scored combined between Games 6 and 7 on 5-18 from the field was especially disheartening, as was the entire team in those closeout games.
And defensively, little needs to be said to remind Suns’ fans of what the Mavericks’ All-Star Luka Dončić did to Bridges and the Suns. The numbers speak for themselves - Bridges was just not effective against the unstoppable scoring force of nature that is Luka Dončić.
Bridges is valuable for several reasons. His efficiency and off-ball IQ on offense, his inside-outside threat, his durability and stamina throughout an entire season. But above all is his overall defensive skillset. His quickness and length make him a lockdown defender on the perimeter and he has the versatility to defend 1-3 and smaller 4s as well.
One of the few flaws in Bridges’ game is related to one of his biggest strengths. While he is asked to be both a catch-and-shoot threat and a cutting, slashing threat on offense, much of this action is done as a secondary or tertiary option on offense, and he is sometimes completely a decoy to create openings for the Suns’ primary scoring options, Booker and Deandre Ayton. Because of this, and being the unselfish person he is, Bridges can get lost in the shuffle of the offense at times.
As discussed shortly after the team’s second-round exit, the Suns’ will flourish if Bridges can take on more of a responsibility on offense to create for himself.
What to work on
Bridges has proven himself as one of the game’s premier defenders. But the experience he had against Dončić was one to learn from, not forget. The league is seeing more and more size on the perimeter each year, and especially so in the West, with the likes of Dončić, Anthony Edwards, Michael Porter Jr., Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, and of course, LeBron James.
At just under 210 lbs, Bridges and the Suns might benefit from him adding on 5-10 pounds to combat these bigger defensive assignments.
Bridges is coming off the final year of his rookie-scale contract and will enter the first year of the four-year, $90.9 million extension that he signed last summer. He stands to make $21 million this year and will rise to $24.9 million by his final contract year in the 2025-2026 season.
Including playoffs, this is how I will grade Mikal Bridges
Overall grade as an NBA player: B
Relative grade to preseason expectation: B
How do you grade Mikal Bridges’ year, including playoffs?
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