On Thursday night, Mikal Bridges might hear his name called when the New York Knicks select ninth in the 2018 NBA draft.
Credit New York Knicks fans, as they’ve probably put more time and energy into researching who the Knicks will draft Thursday night than they’ve put into their day jobs recently. And maybe this is to be expected when you’ve come up close but no cigar for players like Stephen Curry and DeMar DeRozan.
The brain trust of Steve Mills and Scott Perry have been consistent in their message, as they continue to rebuild the Knicks. The next piece of the puzzle needs to contribute and fit into building a team identity centered around defense, versatility, and youth.
Enter Mikal Bridges. The 21-year-old redshirt junior forward out of Villanova capped off an impressive season as part of a championship winning team.
Bridges is a player that may not have the upside and impressive athleticism of other prospects, but this versatile, intelligent, and experienced wing might just be the player that can have a long and prosperous career for the Knicks.
Let’s take a look at his strengths and weaknesses.
In the modern NBA, Bridges has the prototypical body-type for a wing player. Standing at six-foot-seven with a seven-foot-two wingspan, Bridges presents matchup nightmares for opposing coaches on both sides of the ball.
As a shooter, Bridges can come off screens and catch and release with the best of them. Per NBA.com Bridges finished within the 98th percentile in catch and shoot jump shots, averaging 1.3337 points per spot-up possession. Bridges’ skills in this area will provide valuable floor spacing for any team at the next level.
But if you don’t believe the stats, watch the video. Bridges possesses very repeatable, smooth stroke, with a quick release. There are elements of his shot that draw comparisons to Ray Allen.
Sites like The Stepien state that Bridges’ high release, length, and quick footwork provide him the ability to shoot over most defenders. This a polished professional who has spent years honing his craft.
Despite Bridges’ reputation as a 3-and-D guy, Bridges is able to pick his spots and finish at the rim. Per NBA.com Bridges finished within the 93rd percentile in shots around the rim in the half court, averaging 1.433 points. Bridges may not be an explosive athlete, but he understands mismatches and has soft hands around the rim.
Without the ball, Bridges is also effective in offensive sets. Villanova’s offense utilized a lot off ball screens and cutting. Bridges showcases good timing with his cuts.
Bridges’ overall offensive game stood out amongst his peers in college. Consider that Bridges ranked top 20 in the nation in three-point field goal percentage .435, effective field-goal percentage .623, offensive rating 132.5, win shares 7.7, and offensive box plus/minus 8.7.
On the defensive side of the ball, Bridges makes an impact as well. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, Bridges has the ability to switch pick an…blah blah blah. Yes, this is true, but it’s not the whole story.
The Stepien describe Bridges as a high effort, intense defender with a great motor. This is exactly what you want to hear from a player who might be a part of a David Fizdale-led team.
Watching Bridges, it’s easy to see why he has the reputation as a two-way player. The tape shows that he is consistently in a good, low defensive stance. He plays passing lanes well and covers a lot of ground. Sounds an awful lot like Frank Ntilikina.
And the numbers back it up. Bridges was generally matched up against the opposing team’s best player and he did not disappoint. Per NBA.com, Bridges allowed just 0.590 points per spot-up possession, which placed him at the 84th percentile during his junior year.
By all accounts, this is a player who understands offensive and defensive schemes. He’s not an uber-athlete, but better than most give him credit for, and the Knicks would be lucky to have a guy like Bridges on their roster.
Admittedly I’m high on Bridges, so I don’t see his weaknesses as a major cause for concern. If your biggest knock on Bridges is that he doesn’t have the upside or jump out of the gym athleticism, then we just don’t value or prioritize the same things in a basketball prospect.
But certainly, there are weaknesses. For starters, Bridges is not the best ball handler. He dribbles a little higher than most and his lateral quickness is not elite.
A lot of scouts have compared Bridges to current NBA combo guards/forwards like Robert Covington. But The Stepien correctly points out, that Bridges lacks the girth and frame of a player that size. Additionally, some scouts feel that the 30 pounds Bridges has reportedly put on since his freshman year is a sign of maxed-out potential regarding his physical body.
Although he is young and there is room to grow, Bridges playmaking and passing skills out of the pick and roll also need to improve. Bridges will certainly be a willing passer but will have difficulty making advanced reads and hitting open shooters.
Furthermore, according to sites like NBAdraft.net, playing alongside the National Player of the Year Jalen Brunson may have hurt Bridges’ ability to develop as an isolation scorer. He’s also not the most creative off the dribble.
The last week before the draft has created a divide between fans who value consistency versus those who value potential. Despite what others may say, I believe Bridges fits into both categories and I believe he’ll be there when the Knicks are ready to pick at nine.
Bridges will turn 22 in August and he’s improved his strength every year in college. This leads some analysts and evaluators towards favoring prospects like Kevin Knox, who have great measurements and the potential to grow into their bodies a little bit more.
Basketball skills aside, Bridges also brings experience as a key player that has played big games in pressure situations at a program that has had a target on its back for multiple seasons.
For me, this is a kid that will work to improve his weaknesses as well as his strengths.
In the end, I think Bridges will be more than just a 3-and-D athlete. He’ll be the type of player that executes out of a timeout, understands whether to switch a pick and roll or not and, yes, he’ll even hit the big shot to win the game.