When the 2016-2017 season began, expectations were high for Mikal Bridges. The preseason was chock full of articles predicting that The Condor was poised for a big season and that the physical gifts on display last season would be appointment television in 2016-2017. Even I, a pillar of objectivity and reasonable expectations, was not immune. In my season preview, I quoted his 72% clip from the floor and projected that he was due for a big season. The prediction was that, with the loss of Spellman, Bridges would be a "6th man" playing starter minutes and would potentially make the jump from an offensive role player to a featured option.
An initial look at Bridges' 2016-2017 campaign shows that he saw the floor for nearly 30 minutes a game. His overall statistics were pretty consistent, posting 69% from the floor on the year and 39% from deep. He averaged 9.8 points a game, up from the 6.4 a year ago. Our Wisdom of the Crowds predicted that Bridges would drop between 8-10 points per game so we were right on the money.
Also, he murdered, buried, and eulogized some people:
However, despite averaging nearly 10 more minutes a game than last season, Bridges only attempted 1.2 additional 2P shots per game and an additional 1.2 shots from deep; a genuinely puzzling statistic considering his efficiency and strength of shot selection. Was Bridges being too selective? Was he getting lost during extended minutes? Whatever the cause, there were numerous games where 'Nova fans wished Bridges would emerge as an option yet were disappointed as he seemed to defer and/or disappear for long stretches of time.
Look, it's hard to look at a physical specimen like Mikal Bridges after a campaign that saw Villanova capture an overall #1 seed and feel like it was a disappointment especially when his statistics more-or-less comport with what we expected. I don't like to make observations that are not backed up by statistical support but, as Yogi Berra once said, "You can observe a lot by just watching." Mikal Bridges has the ability to get to the basket at will. While the loss of Spellman took away the inside force that would have allowed Bridges to have more space to operate (something we saw Hart adjust to when he was getting pick-pocketed early on), it was disappointing to see Bridges only attempt an additional shot or two in an offense that occasionally needed a jolt.
While the previews at the beginning of the year may have been overly optimistic, the reality is that it was expected that Bridges would hone a killer instinct in light of his sheer physical ability to get by opponents and create shots. Coming off a national championship and with NBA scouts chomping at the bit, the hope that Bridges would make that jump was not entirely misplaced. That being said, there were times this year where Bridges vanished.
Bridges has not announced what his plans are for next year. He will likely test the draft waters and his wingspan/frame will undoubtedly get some serious looks. NBA scouts don't typically sit around wringing their hands about the fact that a guy hasn't been a featured part of a collegiate offensive when those guys come with the physical gifts of a Mikal Bridges. However, to date, the majority of mock drafts do not have Bridges projected in the first two rounds.
If Bridges returns next year, he will be leading a team that will have just lost three seniors, including a Player of the Year candidate. Sharing the floor with that cast may have lulled Bridges into deferring and delayed what will (hopefully) be an incredible jump next year. As I said in my initial preview, the worst case scenario for Bridges, any year, is to not fully become the player we know he can be. I think he will get there.