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Empire of the Suns NBA Draft Big Board 2.0, Part III: Meet Mikal Bridges

Villanova guard Mikal Bridges (25) dunks the ball against Gonzaga forward Killian Tillie, left, and center Jacob Larsen (14) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, in New York. Villanova won 88-72. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
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With conference play underway for some college basketball teams, it’s time to take a look at our NBA Draft big board and see where things stand.

If you missed our first edition of the big board, check out parts onetwo and three for initial reads on the top prospects and how they’d fit with the Suns.

Now, with extending our board into the entire lottery and looking at new risers, we will cover new prospects and how well they’d slide into play in Phoenix as well as give updates on previously covered prospects.

Despite covering several new prospects in Parts I and II, there’s a big jumper debuting on our board in the top of the board.

It’s time to meet Mikal Bridges.

6. Mikal Bridges, SG/SF, Villanova, 21 years old (NR)

Whoa! There’s a riser!

For some context here, since the board only went to 10 spots in the initial version, I had Bridges somewhere in the 14-20 range before the season started.

Draft nerds like myself were extremely excited about him after last season. Taking 6.5 shots a game, Bridges hit 54.9 percent from the field, 39.3 percent from 3-point range and 91.1 percent from the free-throw line in his sophomore season.

Along with his steal and block numbers, his efficiency was jumping off the charts and Bridges’ draft profile soared.

The question many, along with myself, had was with regards to his 15.3 usage percentage last season. How good he would look as a potential No. 1 scorer?

Well, he looks amazing.

Prior to tipping off Big East play Wednesday night, Bridges is shooting 51.4 percent on 11.7 field goals a game and a bonkers 46 percent from 3-point range on 5.3 attempts per game. He’s also shooting 81.4 percent at the line.

Despite only playing 1.3 minutes more per night, his rebounding is up from 3.4 a game to 4.5, his steals have jumped from 1.7 to 2.0 and the blocks — my goodness the blocks — have sky-rocketed from 0.9 to 1.5.

If you don’t get the point yet, Bridges’ usage percentage bumping from 15.3 percent to 23.6 percent seems to have made him even better than he was in a limited role last season.

In what was one of the most impressive performances by an NBA Draft prospect to this point of the season, Bridges was an absolute monster against then-No. 12 Gonzaga on Dec. 5.

He had 28 points, putting himself in the conversation of being the best college player in the country, and defined the hype with a ludicrous back-to-back possession sequence.

Now, that’s not to say that Bridges is an all-around scorer who can get you a bucket whenever, but he’s showing at least something there, enough to say he is much more than just a “3-and-D” prospect.

At 6-foot-7 with over a 7-foot wingspan, Bridges is a menace defensively, continuously deflecting passes and being an all-around nuisance for ball handlers to get around with his long arms and aggressive mentality.

Draft evaluators can create lengthy highlight tapes of his defensive impact from only one game because he does so much on that end. He’s that much of a problem.

It’s rare that wings can do what he does. Putting aside from concerns of him being “the guy” and having less upside at the age of 21, he has to be a top-10 pick.

Fit in Phoenix: Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? Bridges is the model of what you want to put next to Devin Booker on the wing. He’s a reliable shooter, he can get a bucket, he rebounds and he’s a lockdown defender.

The issue is the Suns have T.J. Warren and Josh Jackson.

Bridges can’t be the pick unless Phoenix has plans of moving at least one of those players. If you’ll take an invitation for a quick trip down speculation street, though, packaging the likes of Warren and/or Jackson along with other assets for an established point guard or big and drafting Bridges wouldn’t be the worst way to speed up the team’s rebuild toward winning sooner rather than later.

5. Michael Porter Jr., F, Missouri, 19 years old (▼1)

Porter is likely out the remainder of the season due to back surgery.

It’s a major bummer from a scouting perspective, as Porter’s offensive game was the one I had the most questions about among the top group of prospects.

What makes him this level of prospect, though, will keep him in this range.

4. Marvin Bagley III, F/C, Duke, 18 years old (▲1)

Evaluating Bagley reminds me of evaluating Ben Simmons.

Simmons was terrible on defense at LSU and had absolutely no jumper. With that in mind, he was a special player with the ball in his hands and is an elite, elite athlete and ball-handler for his size.

That’s a similar place I arrive at with Bagley.

His skill is only flashes and it’s going to stay that way all season. Even more concerning, it’s reasonable to suggest he’s not going to be an effective two-way player defensively, where as a slider he looks lacking guarding on the perimeter.

Even with that point, he has the motor to get the most out of his athleticism, finishing at the rim and rebounding. He’s been incredibly productive, averaging 21.1 points, 10.9 rebounds and a block a game for the Blue Devils.

Add that on to how much he can develop skill-wise and he’s still a top-5 prospect.

3. Mohamed Bamba, C, Texas, 19 years old (▼1)

I’m concerned about Bamba.

He’s shooting 50 percent from the field and the excitement surrounding his 3-point shot is gone as he’s off to a 3-of-19 (16 percent) start.

Moreover, he’s having those concerning possessions on defense where he floats.

Still, Bamba’s upside as a defensive anchor is not going away anytime soon. That shows with him putting up 9.8 rebounds and 4.3 blocks a game on 28.2 minutes a night.

He needs something else to show, though, and that is something you hope will come as he adjusts to the college game. That’s a weak excuse given how much the other freshmen here are doing in the beginning of the season, but he should be given that patience given his potential.

If nothing is there, though, he will continue to drop like Texas A&M’s Robert Williams has — Bamba already has dropped outside the top-5 for some.

2. Deandre Ayton, PF/C, Arizona, 19 years old, (▲1)

I’m going to let my buddy Cole Zwicker from The Stepien eloquently explain what separates Ayton from Bagley and Bamba for the No. 2 spot.

To extend Cole’s point, Ayton’s overall physical profile isn’t far off from the other two and his skill as a scorer is far exceeding the other two.

Unfortunately, Ayton has not proved his doubters wrong on defense. When I watch him, I see how many times he has a “stand around,” a peculiar thing he does by simply standing around when he could be boxing out or providing help defense. I’ve never seen a prospect do it to the point where it’s considered common.

He has zero feel for rim protection and doesn’t get physical enough on the glass to be a great rebounder at this point, but there’s still time to get better at that along with the aforementioned point.

We can talk about how much we want to see him dribble and all that, but the guy is still posting 19.5 points and 11.4 rebounds a game on 62 percent shooting from the field and 30 percent from deep.

1. Luka Doncic, F, Real Madrid, 18 years old (—)

We’ve talked about how Doncic is one of the best players in Europe, but he might be the best player in Europe.

On Dec. 10, Doncic dropped a career-high 33 points, showing off his smooth shooting stroke, in particular. He is not just Lonzo Ball folks. Dude can score.

He must have done this against a bad team, surely. Not exactly.

The chance of Doncic dropping from the No. 1 spot was going to come in the first month or so of the college season. Some of the following prospects could have dispelled some of their projected weaknesses and show evolved elements in other places.

They haven’t done that, all while Doncic continues to have performances like the one above to prove why he is far and away “the guy” in this class.

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