Mikal Bridges’s Rise Shows New Strength for Suns Missing from Last Year

Phoenix Suns, Mikal Bridges. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Phoenix Suns, Mikal Bridges. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Much has been made of Mikal Bridges’s offensive growth over this past year, including some anticipation for him to develop into a third star for the Phoenix Suns. His shot profile has remained relatively the same, displaying a high level of self-awareness and an ability to recognize his favorite spots on the floor.

But aside from that, the manner in which he gets those shots off—and his efficiency while doing so—is where the real growth has occurred.

You can tell when players have an agenda behind their moves. They move with a confidence and consistency in their pace, and that’s built through repetition.

Bridges has now entered the realm in his development where you can see that this lightbulb has gone off, while his skill level has also matured at an equal pace. As a result, he finds himself putting up uber-efficient numbers from all his favorite spots.

The Warden currently averages 9.3 field goal attempts per game—a career high mark and a 1.1 attempt increase from the year prior. But although these numbers look pretty cut and dry on the surface, the way Bridges has gotten there better illustrates his efficient shot selection.

Breaking down his season in different intervals, his numbers are as follows:

  • First 17 games: 13.2 PPG, 9.9 FGA, (54/41/80)
  • Next 17 games: 10.8 PPG, 8.5 FGA (49/35/92) *finger injury*
  • Next 17 games: 14.7 PPG, 11.2 FGA (52/85/37)
  • Last 19 games: 17.0 PPG, 12.1 FGA (56/37/81)

Bridges’s growth occurred mainly in the in-between game, as he progressed from working to finish at the rim after beating closeouts, to countering and being composed enough to meander around the mid-range area for jumpers.

Watching Bridges grow into taking shots of this nature without hesitating has been a pleasure. It’s been all-the-more comforting to see the results follow for him off the dribble as well, which now resembles a heavily relied upon element of Phoenix’s offense.

On two-point field goals for this whole season, Bridges shoots 49.0 percent on 2.1 pull-up attempts per game. In getting to those shots via different ways, his numbers break down like this:

  • Off one dribble: 1.9 FGA, 66.9 FG%
  • Off two dribbles: 1.4 FGA, 57.0 FG%
  • Off three-to-six dribbles: 1.1 FGA, 56.2 FG%

On two-point field goals over the last five games, Bridges shot 60.0 percent on 4.0 pull-up attempts per game. In getting to those shots via different ways, his numbers break down this way:

  • Off one dribble: 2.6 FGA, 69.2 FG%
  • Off two dribbles: 2.4 FGA, 50.0 FG%
  • Off three-to-six dribbles: 2.6 FGA, 53.8 FG%

Bridges came through with multiple “heaters” spanning across five-game slates where his efficiency and shot attempts both skyrocketed. Those spurts and these numbers resemble tell-tale signs for the direction Bridges is heading in as the Suns offense evolves beside Devin Booker and Chris Paul.

The more Phoenix’s homegrown talents (Bridges, Ayton, Johnson) continue to evolve, the less predictable the team’s offense promises to become. This is Monty Williams’s “0.5” system trending towards its absolute peak effectiveness.

Even more, skills such as Bridges’s pull up shots, Johnson’s closeout attacks, Ayton’s touch under the charity stripe, Booker’s pull up threes, and Jae Crowder’s floaters—they all represent complementary tools that create a perfect harmony whenever things break down on offense for the Suns. You see each of these entities flow one off of the other, rendering defenses helpless when they click in unison.

Phoenix’s achilles heel in the Western Conference Finals, and even more-so in the NBA Finals, was an inability to generate consistent offense from the “other guys” not named Paul or Booker.

But the time window where those guys both had to sit out thrusted the Suns role players to the forefront of their offense. Those reps and the numbers stemming from them only further validate the fact that this Phoenix team is (substantially?) better than its predecessor.

Next. Chris Paul Beats Suns in Practice with Four Fingers. dark

It’s abundantly clear that each individual has addressed said weaknesses with Bridges spearheading the movement. All members of this Suns team are reaping the benefits of such efforts, as they come together and form the league’s best team.