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Know The Prospect: Mikal Bridges

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IS HE EVEN THE BEST PROSPECT WITH THAT LAST NAME?

Villanova Wildcats Championship Parade Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

Once upon a time few weeks ago, Mikal Bridges was a prized possession for the Knicks front office — and most fans too. If he were available at the nine spot, that seemed like the consensus home run pick to most people. Well, fast-forward a few weeks and a few Kevin Knox workouts later and there’s buzz that both Knox and Lonnie Walker of Miami are favored over Bridges by members of the Knicks front office, should all three be available when the Knicks pick.

Nevertheless, we wouldn’t be doing our due diligence if we didn’t fully deconstruct the 6’7” wing who could very well be our most beloved ‘bocker in a matter of days. If you want to be a fan of Mikal Bridges the person, take a peek at our recent “Know The Prospect: Social Media Edition” featuring Bridges, Doncic, and others.

If you’re curious about the specifics of Bridges’ game, then look no further. Be warned though, there’s a healthy dose of footage on Bridges to follow.

Many people are already familiar with Mikal’s basics. Bridges is a 6’7”, 191 pound wing with a reported 7’2” wingspan. He is known as a maniacally energetic defender who cannot be left open from the perimeter — so far, so good.

Bridges is also 21 years old and will turn 22 before playing in an NBA game — likely making him the oldest player in the lottery, barring any major surprises.

The basic box score stuff from his Junior season at Villanova looked like this:

Per Game Table
Season School GS MP FG% 2P% 3P% FT% TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS Awards
2017-18 Villanova 40 32.1 .514 .593 .435 .851 5.3 1.9 1.5 1.1 1.4 2.2 17.7 NCAA All-Tournament

His biggest weakness, however, has got to be his handle and lack of shot creation. Those are just the basics of what people generally bring up about him. Still, it’s worth a look to see exactly what the issue is on that front.

Although Bridges isn’t the fastest prospect, his inability to create separation stems more from his discomfort dribbling in traffic and lack of offensive creativity. These don’t stick out as things that can’t be improved upon, but he certainly doesn’t look like a primary or even secondary ball-handler in the NBA at this time. Bridges has difficulty turning the corner in pick-and-roll, he heavily favors his right hand, and he isn’t a great passer. Both his handle and his decision making can become significantly more suspect when defenders press the issue.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but it appears that this college kid might not be physically strong enough to handle the NBA. There’s no doubt that this will improve, but his frame certainly looks like it has its bulking limitations.

Still, this perceived weakness helped shed light onto the resourceful skill set that Bridges utilizes. Mikal is able to bother and contest shots when over-matched due to his standing reach, wingspan, and unbelievable motor.

The effort that Bridges exhibits on the court isn’t just an attribute to his game — it’s the foundation of his basketball DNA. This guy’s motor is just unreal.

In the same vein, Bridges’ activity level is matched by his anticipation and nose for the ball. Like some of the better hustle guys in the NBA (Tristan Thompson, Marcus Smart, etc.), Bridges regularly tracks the basketball like he knows where it’s going — almost as if he’s time-traveled and watched the game before everyone else got the chance to even play it.

Controlled chaos is the name of the game, though. There can be a fine line between spirited play and disorder, and Bridges definitely colors outside the lines at times.

We’ve talked about motor, wingspan, and effort — general ingredients for a very good defensive player — so it should be no surprise that Bridges is a pretty outstanding defensive presence. We will get more into his basketball IQ later, but defensively speaking, he’s got a brilliant feel for where to be on the floor, when to gamble, and generally how to use his physical tools.

When guarding the ball, Bridges is an outright pest. He’s able to impose his will on guards, bother bigs with his length, and switch 1-4 in the college game with no hesitation.

Villanova Coach Jay Wright shows just how much he trusts (and depends on) Bridges by how he uses him. Bridges is always at the top of their 34 court trap, any zone traps, and almost always defends the inbound pass. He regularly defends point guards and typically gets the assignment when any offensive player begins to thrive. Bridges has the wit and ability to step over screens that leave space for him to do so and always chases tight to any slashers or curlers trying to get some breathing room.

Taken in the context of a Knicks draft pick, Bridges would obviously create a defensive infrastructure — alongside KP and Frank — that would tempt even the most inept front office.

Bridges has been said to exhibit a high basketball IQ by plenty of analysts, and he surely shows that he’s a cerebral player.

However, I have a slightly different take. I think Bridges’ overall basketball IQ is good, but can improve. Many of his offensive decisions and safe play are byproducts of his limitations rather than his superb on-court awareness. Don’t get me wrong, I think he could be the smartest player in the lottery, but he’s still got plenty to learn, and even his biggest strengths elude him at times.

Even as he’s touted for his defensive awareness in help rotations, he has his hiccups from time to time.

As versatile as Bridges has proven to be on the defensive end, most of these elements have been a part of his game since he was a freshman. The same cannot be said about his offensive game. Bridges has made absolute leaps in his ability to produce offensively, and he still has a lot of room to grow.

He’s known largely as a knock-down shooter at this point in his early career, and rightfully so. Bridges shot in the 97th percentile on spot ups this season, per Bleacher Report. He also boasts the aforementioned 59% two-point field goal percentage and 44% three-point mark. Naturally, we have to look closely to see how reliable this might be at the next level. Although he could be more fluid and his load takes place a bit left-of-center, both Bridges’ release and upper body stability show no real concern. More encouraging, Bridges’ high release and ability to replicate his mechanics regardless of distance — coupled with an ostentatious free throw percentage — project him as a quality shooter at the next level.

Being able to rely on that jump shot has really let Bridges thrive when attacking the rim, and he does so with serious conviction. Finishing at an absurd rate of 68% at the rim, per Hoop-Math, Mikal finishes the majority of his drives through contact. Bridges is now able to attack closeouts with either pull-up jumpers or potential poster dunks depending how the defense reacts.

For all the fuss at the 3-point line and the rim, Bridges has done work to refine a crafty bag of tricks that helps him in between those extremes. He has some patience and feel around the rim and he uses change-of-pace and other tactics to his advantage.

As for how he might translate his game in the NBA, I definitely have some opinions, concerns, and assurances. Between how handsy he can be and how crafty NBA players are, I expect foul trouble to neutralize him quite a bit early on, much like it did for Frank and KP in their respective rookie seasons. Playing next to Frank, he may not see the same catch-and-shoot opportunities he did at Villanova. Bridges seems like he could be a good natural slasher, but he played the bulk of his minutes in a motion-style offense that let him camp out above the break and generally didn’t move him all that much. He is extremely capable of shooting out of floppy, pin-downs, and other actions that involve some variation of “sprint, square up, and fire.”

Bridges had a usage rate of 23.2% and turned the ball over 1.57 times per 36 minutes. If we look at every NBA player from 2017-18 who was within .5% above that usage rate and .5% below that usage rate, Bridges would have had the second lowest turnover rate in a field of 28 players with similar usage, including guys like Klay Thompson, Jrue Holiday, Andrew Wiggins and Ricky Rubio.

Bridges played within his comfort zone last season on the offensive end. Knowing your limitations is an attribute in itself, but you hope that Bridges can improve the handle and shot creation that may hinder his growth.

I think a realistic comparison for Bridges would be like if Nic Batum gave a flying sh*t about basketball. I also wouldn’t argue with people who compare him to Trevor Ariza or even Thaddeus Young, but I could see some dissimilarities.

Ultimately, there may be prospects available with higher ceilings, but Bridges has shown dramatic improvement in some areas and I wouldn’t bet against his ability to continues doing so. I suspect he would fill a need for most teams — especially the Knicks — with the potential to do some variation of this last sequence every night.

See you Thursday!