Mikal Bridges has started four out of the Phoenix Suns’ last five games. Igor Kokoskov needs to commit to Bridges as a starter for the rest of the year.
The Phoenix Suns are still in a rebuilding mode, but that isn’t stopping the coaching staff from trying to win as many games as possible by putting the best players on the court at all times.
This obviously includes the starting lineup where the team’s best unit begins every game and plays the most together. First-year head coach Igor Kokoskov has had to juggle that starting unit several times this season (six different starting rotations in 19 games), but as he is now apparently settling on Devin Booker as the team’s regular starting point guard, moving Mikal Bridges to the starting lineup alongside him makes perfect sense.
Unlike the last two seasons when Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender, and Tyler Ulis got both a number of starts and a ton of playing time as rookies and second-year pros out of necessity and intentional tanking, Bridges has more than earned his playing time thus far.
Along with playing more than adequate defense (Bridges is averaging 2.2 steals per-36min compared to Josh Jackson‘s 1.4), he is also shooting the lights out. A 54.9% 2-point shooter, Bridges is tearing it up from the outside as well, shooting 36.2% from beyond the arc (his numbers were each several percentage points better before a 1-8 shooting night at the Detroit Pistons, including 0-3 from beyond the arc).
Moreover, while he’s not shooting a ton of free throws, when he takes them, he makes them at a sizzling 20-23 clip this season, (87.0%) – second best among all rookies in the NBA this season.
Starting Bridges and committing to him as a starter would be tremendous for both himself and the team. Already a quasi-veteran even as a rookie with three years of college experience and two national championships under his belt, had Josh Jackson not been on the roster and had Kokoskov committed to Devin Booker as the starting point guard from the beginning of the year, Bridges might have more than likely began the season as the team’s starting shooting guard anyway, a situationally similar position for another rookie, Deandre Ayton.
Now that it appears that Booker is the starting point guard from here on out anyway (or at least Kokoskov is moving more and more in that direction with Isaiah Canaan coming off the bench), there is an open space in the starting lineup for Bridges to step right in.
Starting Bridges and leaving him there indefinitely would be good for a team who has been struggling to find their identity and desperate to understand their purpose and roles on the roster all year. Committing to Bridges as the team’s starting shooting guard will be another piece of the puzzle helping the rest of the roster to further realize and define their own roles and responsibilities hopefully helping to add more cohesion without a number of lineup changes.
While we all hoped that all of those early starts for Chriss and Bender would help them in their personal development, Mikal Bridges is already better than both of them at this stage in their respective careers and is likely well past the need for starts, but rather the team needs him to start to help better stay competitive and win more games. In his five games as a starter, the Suns have scored over 60 points in the first half three times averaging 56 points in that half.
While it might not seem like a dramatic leap, Phoenix is only averaging 51.5 first half points on the season overall, 29th in the league.
Selfishly Bridges is also probably set up to be a starter for the vast majority – if not the rest – of his career as well anyway. He has been playing too well early on in the season to think that he won’t develop into a regular starter for a very long time to come.
Whether or not he is a star in the making or not remains to be seen, he certainly looks to not only be headed in that direction, but also a player who will make an impact on the team for many years to come and can help.
Solidifying Bridges as a starter now not only helps the Suns become more competitive this season, offers the team a chance at better cohesion, but affords him the experience he needs playing alongside Devin Booker allowing the two to mature together in the manner that Phoenix wants him to.