Suns building blocks: The potential breakout season for Mikal Bridges
The Phoenix Suns will exit the 2019 offseason with their young core clear. While some pieces are more proven than others, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, Devin Booker, Cameron Johnson and Kelly Oubre Jr. are all under the age of 24 and will shape how the next three years go for Phoenix as it leaves the rebuilding phase.
Empire of the Suns will take a look at key areas of improvement for each young piece, including the one who is the most likely to have a breakout year.
It would be wise to buy any remaining Mikal Bridges stock from any fool dumb enough to sell it.
From everything he showed in his rookie season, Bridges not only played well but showed signs of a breakout season coming either this upcoming season or the next.
As I wrote in February, Bridges was bringing the value the Suns desired with his defense while also showing signs offensively.
He’s one of those players who can have a humongous impact on the game despite only scoring 10 points, as he did in a win at Golden State.
The fact that he still managed to do this consistently all while being a rookie and having his second-biggest skill, his shooting, be a negative was remarkable.
Speaking of the shooting, the decline of it was mysterious given how prolific and efficient he was at Villanova.
Yes, Bridges shot 43.5% from 3-point range on 239 attempts in his junior year before the draft. He also shot 57.1% on corner threes (!!!).
It’s like there was a circuit board error in Bridges’ shot because he made only 32% of his corner threes as a rookie, a terrible number for a wing, per Cleaning the Glass.
That, uh, is kind of an issue when 23% of Bridges’ field goal attempts came from corner threes. That’s one of the highest marks in the league for a wing and with the spacing a point guard like Ricky Rubio requires, that number might rise even more for Bridges this upcoming season.
We’ve touched on some of the wonky shot mechanics Bridges added to his shooting stroke in the past.
At times last year, he looked oddly uncomfortable on quick catch-and-shoots, something that, once again, I have to preface was not a thing at Villanova and he has mostly looked comfortable with in a Suns uniform.
That’ll happen to a young player who goes through poor shooting spells, like a run in February and March where he shot 28.9% from deep over 24 games.
This might be slightly ignorant but I just don’t see any other outcome than Bridges being at least a good shooter and I think he’s going to be great.
Too many times, like in college, we saw him have all the sniper traits down on his release.
I’m willing to use the rookie-year excuses and move on. Seeing his release and the initial sample size of numbers, though, and this becoming a thing two years in a row would be extremely concerning.
It’s a testament to Bridges that he managed a 43.0 FG% on a 3-point percentage of 33.5% and that’s because he shot 54.8% from two-point range.
While it was selective, Bridges took 69.5% of his two-pointers at the rim. Dude knows where the goods are at and doesn’t try to do anything extra.
He showed a knack for finishing, shooting 64% around the basket despite being a wiry wing with not much muscle.
You’re checking the requirements being good there if you 1) seek out contact on drives and 2) still finish when taking those bumps.
We saw him do this more than enough as a rookie.
Unlike someone we talked about earlier like Ayton, Bridges won’t be looking at much of an elevated scoring role in year two. That’s going to allow him to move into that role organically if that winds up being a real part of his game.
That’s all the better for him as he continues filling out his arsenal for attacking closeouts in this current version of his skill set, a wise move for someone who will primarily be out there offensively to shoot.
The next step is floaters and pull-ups off the dribble. The thing is, we’ve already seen flashes.
Watch Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert here not even go to swat a Bridges floater because he’s expecting either the pass or a close finish.
Shaun Livingston is more than OK with playing off Bridges a bit here on a dribble-drive in order to cut off access to the paint.
On this limited usage, he doesn’t have to do much beyond a dribble or two.
Bridges, though, could keep adding more and more to his skills package while tightening his handle until he potentially could be doing stuff like this regularly.
In a similar spot to Oubre, Bridges already has parts of his game that make him a “good player” but he still has a ton of areas where he can realistically grow. Bridges is already a good NBA defender and will probably elevate that label to great as a sophomore. He makes winning plays constantly, where his basketball IQ shines.
If he can be a league-average shooter from deep around 36% and provide the bits of scoring he did last season, now we’re getting somewhere, with plenty of space still left on his ceiling as a shooter and scorer.
Bridges’ potential breakout remains the biggest bump the Suns’ young core could get internally over the next three years, and we could see it soon.