Mikal Bridges will be the key to victory for the Phoenix Suns against Luka and the Mavericks
A major factor for Wednesday night’s contest between the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks is Mikal Bridges’ defense. Bridges guarded LeBron James and Donovan Mitchell in the preseason to varying degrees of success. Now he must stop Dallas’ superstar Luka Doncic.
Easier said than done. As it stands, Luka is a top-10 player. The stats bore it out. Luka averaged nearly 30 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists last season, and Dallas became the most efficient offensive team in NBA history.
How can the Suns guard one of the greatest offenses in NBA history? Mikal Bridges has to shut down Luka.
First things first, ignore the percentages. Luka shot 31.6 percent from 3-point range, below average by NBA standards. Bridges should NOT play off him, no matter what conventional wisdom says.
If Bridges plays off on Luka at all, it’s a wrap on stopping him. Minnesota made the same mistake in the preseason.
Luka got himself another highlight as a result. The help defense was not there because Dallas is perceived as an awesome 3-point shooting team. This is not entirely true. While Dallas ranked second last season in 3-pointers attempted and made, they only ranked tenth in the league in three-point shooting percentage.
Dallas can still shoot the lights out. Luka is still one of the ten best basketball players in the world, even if he was not blessed with freakish athleticism. While Luka may not have a 50 inch vertical, he more than makes up for it with his body control and his high-level basketball IQ.
Both of his elite traits were on full display here. Luka’s pump fake caused the Minnesota defender to jump out of his shoes. He was two steps ahead of Minnesota’s defense on this possession.
Notice how he immediately knew his next move. He saw the five-out spacing so his next move was to cut to the basket. His teammate hits him in perfect stride. Luka takes it from there, getting the bucket and the foul, all thanks to his body control.
Phoenix Suns: Mikal Bridges’ Luka Doncic assignment is important
Bridges will have to guard Luka on an island. The help will not be there on the pick-and-roll because Dallas is such a deadly 3-point shooting team. He has to use every bit of his considerable wingspan and his footwork to not let Luka’s left shoulder get past him.
Because if so, Luka will get to the rim at will. See how he clowns Milwaukee’s defense on this possession. The guy guarding him was Jrue Holiday, who Kevin Durant considered the best on-ball defender in the NBA.
Jrue Holiday is no joke, Luka is that good. The Suns run a scheme similar to Milwaukee (ranked No. 1 in defensive efficient last season, by the way) so Bridges has to use his long strides to immediately cut off Luka’s initial drive.
It would help Bridges if the player screening him jumps out on the screen. Jevon Carter had success doing this against LeBron James, as the Suns’ Twitter account pointed out on this possession. Carter trusted Bridges that he would recover to LeBron in time.
Basketball is a team sport, after all. It is played by individuals, however. Bridges’ individual brilliance on defense is key to victory. If he can somehow contain Luka to around 25 points and 7 assists, the Suns will win on opening night.
Therefore, Mikal Bridges is key for the Phoenix Suns against the Dallas Mavericks on opening night. May the season begin!