Is Phoenix Suns small forward Mikal Bridges a Top 100 Player?

Bleacher Report ranked their top 100 players for this season and four Phoenix Suns were included. Mikal Bridges was not one.

Bleacher Report recently released their top 100 rankings list for the 2019-20 season and four Phoenix Suns were included: Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Ricky Rubio, and Kelly Oubre. Should second-year forward Mikal Bridges have been included on the list as well? Let’s discuss.

When analyzing the traditional stats, points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks, it appears that Mikal Bridges is most definitely not a current top 100 player in the NBA.

Out of these five categories, Bridges only ranks in the top 100 in steals for the 2019-20 season, coming in at 18th in the NBA with 1.4 steals per game.

Bridges’ value for the Phoenix Suns is deeper than traditional stats.

When you dive deeper into the six advanced statistical categories: player efficiency rating, value over replacement player, true shooting percentage, win shares, offensive box plus/minus and defensive box plus/minus, the idea that he is not a top 100 NBA player becomes less resolute as Bridges ranked in this group in three of these categories.

Bridges is 39th in defensive box plus/minus, 59th in true shooting percentage, and 80th in win shares.

With his elite length, quickness, versatility, and instincts, it is very clear that Bridges is a top 100 defensive player at minimum, likely a top 30 defender in the NBA.

That alone makes him exactly the kind of player that is overlooked and undervalued by the average fan but coveted by front offices around the league for the value of his strengths.

Most NBA players are able to fill up a score sheet offensively, otherwise, they wouldn’t be a top 300 player in the world and worthy in playing in the premier basketball league on Earth.

There are far fewer NBA players who are able to essentially enter the league as above-average defenders though as that requires a level of effort, humility, athleticism, basketball intelligence and instincts that is rare for a player who has likely excelled as one of the very best players in their area, state or conference in Division 1 basketball in order to earn the opportunity to play in the league.

It usually takes time for younger NBA players to fully grasp defensive concepts and schemes and adjust to having to defend the very best scorers and athletes in the world, not just some of the most gifted offensive talents in their age group.

There are less than 10 players under the age of 25 that are currently in the top-40 for defensive box plus/minus this season and Bridges is one of them.

That alone makes him an ideal complementary piece around the Phoenix Suns’ two budding superstars in Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton.

The area where Bridges needs to improve is on the offensive side of the ball, more specifically his confidence and aggressiveness.

He rarely shoots a low-IQ shot, which is indicated by his status as a top 100 player in true shooting percentage despite averaging only 8.7 points per game.

His shooting splits are pretty encouraging at 51 percent from the field, 35 percent from the three-point line and 85 percent from the free-throw line in his sophomore season.

Bridges’ lack of offensive production and status as a bench player for much of the 2019-20 season prevents him from cracking the top 100 for now, but he is well on his way to being a top 100 player in the 2020-21 season.

If Bridges can maintain a similar level of offensive efficiency while upping his shot attempts per game to the 9 to 11 range, a number more commiserate with the average number of shots attempts per game of a player who averages 27 minutes per game as Bridges has in 2019-20, he will not only validate his worth as a top 100 player, but also relieve some of the offensive pressure on Booker and Ayton for scoring.

Based on his current efficiency levels (which would likely dip sightly with more shot attempts), here is what his offensive numbers could look like in the 2020-21 season if he plays 30 minutes and attempts 10 shots per game:

PTS: 11.9  REB: 4.7  AST: 2.0  STL: 1.6

That sort of offensive production while potentially developing into being a top 20 defender in the NBA (very possible, he is not too far off now), would make Bridges a top 50 player in the league value-wise in the 2020-21 season.

In his first exhibition game back from a four and a half month layoff due to COVID-19 against the Jazz on Thursday, it was clear that Bridges was stronger, more confident and more aggressive offensively as he scored 14 points to go along with five rebounds.

As unpopular as this may be to some, the best thing for his development and the Suns ceiling moving forward would be for Oubre to continue to sit out this truncated conclusion of the 2019-20 NBA season in the Orlando bubble and for the Suns to trade Oubre and enable Bridges to occupy more minutes and a bigger role in 2020-21.

Based FiveThirtyEights’s CARMELO Player Projections, Bridges second NBA season’s production and skill set are similar to players such as Khris Middleton in 2015, Nicolas Batum in 2012, and Otto Porter Jr. in 2017 (along with some less flattering comparisons).

I don’t foresee Bridges ever becoming the ball handler, scorer and shot creator that Middleton is (most underrated player in the NBA), or the having the playmaking abilities of Batum, but he absolutely can become the level of player Batum and Porter Jr. were at their very best.

That would mean he could be the number three guy behind Booker and Ayton for some potentially very good Phoenix Suns teams, and a player worth a near-max contract in the future.

The Suns are banking on that potential and Bridges being a top 50 player by the time he enters his NBA prime.