Phoenix Suns star measures up with 2-time Finals MVP

Phoenix Suns, Mikal Bridges (Photo by Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)
Phoenix Suns, Mikal Bridges (Photo by Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports) /

The Phoenix Suns have rapidly become an enduring, feel-good story in 2021, leading the Pacific Division and sitting second in the Western Conference playoff standings.

The roster construction has been done economically, with adjustments made to fit Chris Paul’s $40 million+ hit among a strong foundation that includes Devin Booker’s max deal.

In fact, the team appears to have staying power as Booker, Mikal Bridges, Deandre Ayton and Cameron Payne all are improving.

The Phoenix Suns could very well be entering a two- or three-year championship window and one piece, in particular, could be the biggest key.

He’s a player we compare with a four-time All-NBA star.

It’s OK to dream.

One guy is a two-time Finals MVP and two-time Defensive Player of the Year. The other guy plays for the Suns.

Here’s a comparison of their third NBA season.

  • Player 1, 6-6, 209 pounds. Drafted 10th overall: Games 47, Starts 47, Points 13.2, Rebounds 4.9, FG% .525, 3-point% .405 on 4.7 attempts per game, Blocks 0.9, Steals 0.9.
  • Player 2, 6-7, 225 pounds. Drafted 15th overall: Games 66, Starts 65, Points 12.8, Rebounds 6.2, FG% .522, 3-point% .379 on 2.8 attempts per game, Blocks 0.8, Steals 1.7.

You probably figured the Suns guy was Player 1, given Phoenix has played 47 games (33-14 record following Wednesday’s victory over Chicago).

Player 1, as you guessed, is Mikal Bridges.

So who’s Player 2? Kawhi Leonard.

OK, OK, take a breath. We’re not saying Bridges is Leonard right now, but the upside is wide open for the Suns’ versatile wing.

On offense, Mikal Bridges understands Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams’ system.

He provides next-level value via his off-ball cuts and his 40% shooting from beyond the arc.

Bridges is not yet a defender on Leonard’s level, but he is among the NBA’s top 30 in Defensive Rating, and, as Suns fans have seen, his instincts on defense are elite.

Even better – similar to a talented NFL quarterback on his rookie deal – Bridges is a stone-cold bargain through the end of next season.

The Suns exercised Bridges’ option for this season, paying him about $5.5 million. Absent an offseason contract extension, a qualifying offer for 2022-23 would pay him almost $7.6 million.

After Leonard’s fourth season, he signed a five-year, $94.3 million max deal, so Bridges may raise his worth and, at the same time, bring postseason celebrations to Phoenix.

All good.

dark. Next. Devin Booker and Cosmopolitan