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Suns G Devin Booker on Mikal Bridges: ‘You can’t put him in a box’

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, right, celebrates with Mikal Bridges, left, during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics, Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020, in Boston. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

Something is different about Phoenix Suns wing Mikal Bridges through three scrimmages in the NBA bubble. Really, it’s some things.

He’s more aggressive attacking the rim. His pull on the jumper is a single, effortless motion. Bridges’ usual excellent defense has more oomph.

Phoenix enters seeding games that count against its 2019-20 record with a three-man show leading them — even with fellow wing Kelly Oubre Jr. remaining on ice. Bridges scored 26 points in 27 minutes in a scrimmage against the Toronto Raptors, whose defense targeted Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton successfully.

The second-year wing is on a high.

“He’s a player,” Booker said Thursday. “You can’t put him in a box, you can’t give him one title. You can’t even just give him a 3-and-D title that people try to use for him.”

Bridges cited quite a few reasons for his surge in Orlando: Improvements touched his mental, physical and skill makeup.

“Put a lot of work in, especially in the offseason with quarantine,” he said Thursday. “Coach lets me go out there and just play, just play your game. Kind of feel like I’m back in college where I kind of got that OK to go do what you do.”

Bridges also credited assistant coach Darko Rajaković for continuing to perfect the form on his jumper. Rather than a one-two-three wind-up, he’s gotten the form down to smooth motion that also happens to be a lot quicker of a release, helping him fire off shots before closeouts can bother him.

He’s hit 7 of 12 three-point attempts over three exhibition games.

Bridges also appears to have added strength, and he credited assistant strength and conditioning coach Jeff Dolan for working him out. Maybe that’s helped Bridges attack closeouts better, using more explosion to blow by opponents. Any added weight has improved his defense, where he can move opponents like Boston Celtics wing Jayson Tatum off spots more than he could when the league stopped in March.

Still, Bridges has also shown an array of moves going at the rim. He’s been using Eurosteps, up-and-unders, jump-stop pivots and mid-range banks to score.

In Booker’s eyes, the improvements all around come because Bridges is more confident. He cares about his craft, too. That’s something Booker can appreciate. Remember, he entered the NBA shoved into a box and labeled as an elite shooter.

“He’s growing every day, he’s evolving every day and he loves the game,” Booker said of Bridges.


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