Meet the NBA Draft Prospects: Mikal Bridges

Get to know one of this year's top NBA draft prospects - Mikal Bridges.

In an age where 3-and-D wings are coveted, Bridges is one of my favorite prospects in this draft. It is rare for upperclassmen to be rated as high as Bridges and that is usually due to the fact that they are much closer to their ceiling than underclassmen. Bridges, however, has improved drastically over the last three years and still has a lot of room to grow. After two national championships and a dominant junior year, Bridges is one of the most mature, versatile, and promising prospects in this draft. Don’t be fooled by all of the awards Brunson won, Bridges was Villanova’s best player this year.

Strength: Defense

At 6’7 with a 7’2 wingspan Bridges has all the physical traits to be an absolute menace on defense. He has the length to shut down wings and when that is combined with his speed he will be able to switch and completely swallow up opposing guards. He will be able to make an impact from day one based solely on his elite defensive ability. He is one of the best on-ball defenders in the country. His footwork and lateral quickness are exceptional so beating him off the dribble is rare. In the below clip we see Bridges comfort with guarding multiple positions regardless of if it is a quicker guard or a bigger forward. Bridges is the head of the defensive effort by switching onto the ball handler while they run a weave at the top of the key. The opponent makes a nice move to the hoop but Bridges is quick enough so he is able to easily recover and always keep himself between the opponent and the basket. Despite being the smaller player, Bridges uses his length and quick leaping ability to block the shot attempt.

The below clip is another example of how great Bridges is at moving his feet and guarding anyone on the floor. He is guarding Virginia’s quicker point guard who initially gets a step on Bridges. Bridges never lets the ball handler turn the corner though so he never truly loses position and stays between the hoop and his opponent. Even though Bridges is off-balance as his opponent jumps into him, he uses his great wingspan to send the shot back.

One reason Bridges is such a good defender is how he utilizes his athleticism (as you saw above) but he is also an incredibly smart defender too. He knows when to rotate, when to switch, and when to fight through screens. He does a great job recognizing where the ball is going to be and staying a step ahead. Here Bridges recognizes that Brunson is in trouble as he is getting posted up by a much larger opponent. Bridges then collapses and as the ball handler makes his spin back towards the paint, Bridges uses his quick hands for a well-timed steal and fast break starter.

Again, Bridges is constantly engaged off the ball. He recognizes that his man isn’t a threat and is able to use his quick hands and timing to force the turnover.

Weakness: Strength

Bridges is a great athlete who can defend multiple positions but will struggle to guard bigger opponents in the post. Bridges is very lanky and lacks a lot of upper body strength. We’ve seen a lot of players with similar builds have good careers, but in order to be the versatile defender he projects as, he will need to continue to get stronger. His current build will lead to nothing but getting bullied in the post by bigger defenders. By getting stronger he will be able to put up more resistance on defense and really be able to cover any position on the floor. It will also pay dividends as he will become a more effective rebounder and enhance his already impressive post offense.

Strength: Inside-Out Scoring Ability

While Bridges has always been a top-tier defender, his offensive game has grown exponentially in versatility and efficiency every year. He is a threat from all areas of the floor and his high basketball IQ and team mentality result in rarely forced shots. He does a great job of taking advantage of mismatches. When he gets smaller defenders he is able to post them up and use his length to easily shoot over them. When bigger defenders try to guard him he uses his speed to blow by them. While he isn’t a very creative ball-handler, he is a very effective straight-line driver who can finish with power at the rim. This is a simple drive-by Bridges but he blows by his defender and then throws down a vicious dunk over three other players.

This opportunity came from Bridges shooting ability. On six attempts per game, Bridges shot 43.5 percent from three. Villanova ran a three-point heavy offense that was similar to those run in the NBA. The transition to NBA range won’t be that tough for Bridges as he frequently ventured well past the line. He showed some success when dribbling into his shot but really excelled as a catch-and-shoot player. If he gets paired with a primary ball handler with a good passing vision he will be a deadly weapon.

Weakness: Playmaking

Bridges has come a long way offensively but still needs to improve his playmaking ability. His ball handling is often far too loose which results in too many scoring opportunities being wasted. In order to be a truly versatile offensive weapon, he will need to drastically improve his dribbling to create easier driving lanes and more space when pulling up off the dribble. He didn’t show much success when shooting off the dribble as he struggled to create space and often stumbled into a shot attempt due to the ball being too far from his body. He showed some ability to pass out of drives but needs to improve his accuracy when doing so. Too often his passes were just enough off target where his teammates would have to pass out of it because the defense had enough time to recover. If Bridges is able to tighten up his ball handling he will be able to create easier scoring opportunities for not just himself but also his teammates.

Strength: Team Mentality

So many prospects have a ton of talent but are only concerned with their own numbers. They focus more on their points and how their individual match-up goes instead of buying into the team concepts first. Bridges focused on how to help the team and then further developed his individual skills. The result is his very high basketball IQ and team mentality. On offense, he swings the ball, makes the right cut, sets screens, and makes the extra pass. He is more concerned about getting the right shot off instead of getting his shot off. On defense, he knows where to be, when to switch, and how to make the right rotations. This maturity and IQ will show through from day one.

Outlook

Bridges probably won’t be a team’s primary scoring threat, at least not for a few years, but he will be an extremely efficient offensive player. He will be able to slide into his role seamlessly. Defensively, he should be a stud his whole career. Don’t be surprised by multiple All-Defensive Team selections. He will likely start his career off as a role player but as he continues to develop offensively, All-Star games are absolutely within reason.

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