It’s been quite the journey for Mikal Bridges, who came from about 20 minutes away to Villanova’s campus, entering the Main Line as an under-weight forward that needed a redshirt year to bulk up. Once eligible, he started to have a penchant for defense, using his long 7-foot-2 wingspan to disrupt opponents’ passing lanes and offensive schemes.
This past season saw an even greater leap for Bridges on the basketball court, as his scoring ability started to catch up with his elite defense. The Jimmy V Classic showdown against Gonzaga showcased Bridges’ talents and served as a breakout party. Bridges became one of the top two-way players in college basketball and now seems to be a coveted 3-and-D prospect for the NBA. He has a chance to be Villanova’s first top-10 draftee since Randy Foye went seventh overall back in the 2006 draft.
Bridges’ Career Stats
The NBA can always use some defense and this has been Bridges’ forte since he was able to step onto the court as a Wildcat. While the average NBA player has a wingspan that’s approximately four inches longer than his actual height, Bridges stands at 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan, giving him a wingspan that’s much longer than the average player’s. These physical tools, along with solid quickness and athleticism, make Bridges a formidable defender. On-ball, he is fantastic at taking on his matchup. However, off-ball is where he is truly shines. Overall, he gets into a nice low stance that covers a lot of surface area, and is intuitive enough to know when to go for a steal and when to switch assignments. Bridges has made some clutch defensive stops, as well as help turn the tide or further Villanova’s onslaught during a run with his work on that end of the court. In today’s NBA, players have to be able to readily switch, and he just seems to have a knack for being at the right place at the right time, whether it’s smoothly picking up a new defensive assignment or come swooping in for a monster rejection. He can defend a variety of positions, making him quite the defensive specimen.
There’s no doubt Bridges can shoot from almost anywhere. He also knows when to take one and when to defer to someone else. Bridges is an efficient scorer, never shooting below 50 percent overall for any of his three seasons at Villanova. His three-point shooting has been a welcomed development for himself and the Wildcats, starting off at a meager 29.9 percent long-range clip to 43.5 percent in his final Villanova season. If that jump alone isn’t enough to impress you, over 60 percent of the three-pointers Bridges took in the 2017-18 season came from NBA range. He knocked down a solid 38 percent of those. He thrives off catch-and-shoot plays, whether it’s lurking on the corner, spotting up at the perimeter, or freeing himself off of a pick. If he’s open, he can punish opponents with a smooth shooting stroke and with his above-average length, it isn’t easy for opponents to disrupt him. He can knock down long range shots, mid-range jumpers, and is excellent at the free throw line. Over his three seasons of college basketball action, Bridges converted on 84.5 percent of his foul shots.
When you have the consensus National Player of the Year as your starting point guard and teammate, there isn’t an overwhelming need to create for yourself and for others. One of the biggest questions surrounding Bridges is whether or not he is able to create his own shot. A vast majority of the threes he made were from spotting up or in catch-and-shoot situations. It isn’t a bad thing, as this might be an untapped area of Bridges game that may just be waiting to be utilized. He didn’t have to dominate the ball or have a high percentage of touches, he just needed to be in the right spots and take and make his shots. His handle isn’t top-notch either, or maybe it just looks somewhat awkward due to his above-average wingspan. He’s flashed some crossover moves and feels comfortable when he drives to his right, but all in all hasn’t needed to create or shoot off the dribble. He will look to keep his handle tighter and lower at the next level. As for playmaking, there was a very small sample size in the 2016 Never Forget Tribute Classic game against Notre Dame, as he had to bring the ball up the court and facilitate the floor with Jalen Brunson temporarily sitting out with an injury, Donte DiVincenzo struggling, and Phil Booth injured. It was Giannis Antentokoumpo-esque and while he might have had to be the emergency point guard, he was able to do it and this can possibly be explored at the next level.
It was something that hampered Bridges when he first arrived at ‘Nova and delayed his debut, his weight and muscle mass. He’s worked on it over the last few years at Villanova, now weighing in at 210 pounds--30 pounds heavier than his senior year of high school. How much more mass can he gain? While he was able to hold his own against collegiate power forwards, how about the tougher ones in the NBA? There will be a lot of switching going on and some scouts are afraid that he will be overpowered by NBA big men. Aside from that, there are questions surrounding whether or not he will be able to attack the basket and play through contact and traffic. In his first season as a starter, Bridges averaged less than two free throw attempts per game--he wasn’t able to get to the line often, didn’t really seek to attack in traffic. While he improved upon it this past season, his free throw rate in which he is able to get to the line still remains below average.
Various mock drafts seem to be certain of Bridges’ status as a lottery pick, with a majority of them showing him falling between a range as high as seventh to the Chicago Bulls to as late as 10th to his hometown team, the Philadelphia 76ers. The Bulls would most likely be able to give Bridges a lot of playing time right away, given how young they are. The Sixers would be interesting, as he would stay in the Philadelphia-area but also play for a playoff contender. Somewhere in the mix is a chorus of Knicks fans clamoring for New York to take him with the ninth pick, as he would give an automatic boost to three-point shooting and defense--two areas that the Knicks were subpar at this past season. Personally, if the Knicks don’t take him at ninth, I would be shocked if the Sixers pass on him at No. 10.
Bridges’ player comparisons seem to vary, as Otto Porter, Robert Covington, Khris Middleton, Trevor Ariza, Andre Iguodala (but with a better jump shot), Kawhi Leonard, and even Klay Thompson were all thrown around. He certainly appeals as a prototypical 3-and-D player for the NBA, but his ceiling is up for debate. Some are deem him as a high floor, low ceiling type of player which can be productive and serviceable in the NBA, but question if he has All-Star potential as a lottery pick. Regardless, whichever team takes Bridges will be getting a smart basketball player that can make some sort of impact right away with his tenacious defense and three-point shooting.