Mikal Bridges had a breakout game for the Phoenix Suns at the Sacramento Kings. That level of play needs to become a regularity, and it needs to happen now.
Mikal Bridges was the final first round pick of former Phoenix Suns general manager Ryan McDonough’s tenure with the franchise. Trading up to acquire him, Bridges absolutely appeared to be the right call for his potential as a two-way player.
However, following an okay rookie season offensively (one cannot discount his knack for stealing the ball as he led all rookies in the category last year), he has since taken a decidedly Josh Jackson, Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender-esque turn for the worse, currently suffering from a sophomore slump that should make every Suns fan a little wary about his future with the franchise.
Why should Suns fans worry?
Because literally everybody else on this roster is having a tremendous season – several of whom are having career-years – and yet here is Bridges, so far taking the start of this season very slow.
It seems that it is fair to say that it was a universal opinion of fans and an expectation of all that he was going to take a stride this season over last. Especially with the addition of Ricky Rubio, to predict Bridges would average 10-12 points per game while shooting 37.0% from beyond the arc, would probably would have easily fallen into the realm of both the plausible, but also expected.
But, while one might be will to accept a slight drop in scoring (although per-36 minutes his scoring average has risen from 10.2 to 10.7), what is particularly dis-heartening and worrisome is that his 3-point percentage has dropped like rock from last year’s decent shooting percentage – very strange considering last year he didn’t have a world-class point guard distributing the ball.
Falling from 33.5% to currently 23.8% (he and Frank Kaminsky are the only two regulars who have 3-point shooting percentages under 30.0%), that is a percentage that is not going to earn him any extended minutes in Monty Williams‘ rotations – and it’s showing.
Although his defense is fantastic thus far (as we have come to expect), averaging 2.7 steals per-36 minutes, and his DRtg is top’s on the team, he is not going to make any overtures for extended playing time if he can’t hit a 3 and his playing time has dropping a whopping 10 minutes per game over his rookie year!
What is unfortunate is that his team could really use his help on the court, like now.
The Phoenix Suns are in the hunt for a playoff position this season. When healthy (and no one is suspended), they have the necessary talent to get into the postseason tournament, something that the franchise hasn’t been a part of in ten years.
Want to feel old? The last time the Phoenix Suns were in the playoffs, Barack Obama was in the second year of his Presidency. Today, Donald Trump is a year away from re-election.
Having a player who can potentially lock down an opponent, and constantly have his hands in passing lanes knocking down as many steals as he does, Mikal Bridges should be a tremendous defensive asset in the regular rotation that Monty Williams would be hard-pressed to ever sit for extended minutes.
Shooting 3’s at a decent clip, which would both stretch the defense and allow him more time to play defense himself, will only make this roster deeper and much more competitive game-in-and-game-out.
Mikal Bridges needs to make Monty struggle to find minutes for him – and playing well both ways will do that.
And there is no doubt: his defensive presence on the court is about as important as anyone else’s, and while he is not an interior defender (which is generally the team’s greatest weakness), his length and ability to stay in front of his opponent would help tremendously in preventing driving guards and slashing wings from getting to the hole.
Mikal Bridges does not really need to justify his acquisition at both number 10 overall and with the assets used to acquire him. But he does need to play a much more well-rounded game.
Only two double-digit scoring games though and a terrible 3-point shooting percentage are not becoming of a player who was selected in the NBA Lottery. He needs to find his stroke fast to force his head coach’s hand, or potentially succumb to the abyss of so many other recent failed first round picks.