PHOENIX SUNS

Suns wing Mikal Bridges atop final NBA.com Defensive Player Ladder

Apr 13, 2022, 7:19 AM
Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges reacts after scoring against the Utah Jazz during the second hal...

Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges reacts after scoring against the Utah Jazz during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, April 8, 2022, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Phoenix Suns wing Mikal Bridges, the NBA’s iron man, is beginning to receive more praise for his efforts over 82 games per season.

After sitting behind Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and Utah’s Rudy Gobert, Bridges sits atop Steve Aschburner’s final defensive player rankings for NBA.com. Aschburner had Bridges moving up to the top spot in his final order, ahead of Gobert and Boston’s Marcus Smart to finish the regular season.

The Phoenix Suns’ 25-year-old forward established himself in his fourth NBA season as the league’s peskiest bird of prey. On the team with the No. 1 record, Bridges is the guy assigned – not just matched up by position – to guard the other teams’ most prolific scorers.

He does it with agility, he does it with effort, he does it with wingspan and he does it better than any of his defensive-minded peers for the 2021-22 season.

Bridges contributed in a major way during his fourth season for the Suns. The team combined for a 106.8 defensive rating, the third-best in the NBA behind Boston and Golden State.

Aschburner also hits the nail on the head when it comes to matchups. Bridges has done well against the best of the best.

Part of his jump to the top one month after being No. 3 has to be Bridges’ role in shutting down Donovan Mitchell in the fourth quarter of the April 8 game in Utah.

Down 17 entering the quarter, Bridges kept Mitchell from scoring a single point, allowing for the Phoenix offense to outscore Utah 36-13 and complete the comeback in a 111-105 victory.

Statistically, 2021-22 was a career year for Bridges on the offensive side of the floor. His 14.2 points and 2.3 assists per game are the most he has averaged in four seasons, scoring 53.4% of his shots.

Shockingly, his 1.2 steals and 0.4 blocks per game are the lowest in the small forward’s career. The defensive impact by Bridges has allowed the Suns to dominate this season and make history with 64 wins, even if the impact does not record as statistics in the final box score.

If Bridges were to win the Defensive Player of the Year award, it would be the first time a small forward won the award since Kawhi Leonard did six years ago. It would also be the first time the award would belong to a Suns player.

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