When the Nets acquired Mikal Bridges along with Cam Johnson, Jae Crowder and multiple first-round draft picks from the Suns for Kevin Durant, there was excitement after Bridges’ impact as an elite role player in Phoenix.
Through 15 games, the Nets have to be thrilled at the star player Bridges has already become. The former Villanova Wildcat is in the midst of a metamorphosis and has become the team’s No. 1 option in a short period of time.
Bridges has been on a tear, averaging 26.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists. He is shooting 50 percent from the field and an excellent 44.4 percent from the three-point line.
In Phoenix, Bridges established himself as one of the premier 3-and-D wings in the NBA. He was a great cutter off the ball who shot well from the three-point line.
On defense is where Bridges made his name. He was a force to be reckoned with. The runner-up for the NBA’s 2021-22 Defensive Player of the Year award, Bridges could defend multiple positions and was often tasked with guarding elite players in the playoffs such as LeBron James and Luka Doncic.
Bridges has already put together a sizzling highlight reel. There was the win last month against the Miami Heat, where he dropped a career-high 45 points along with eight rebounds and 5 assists. Bridges has scored 30 points on seven different occasions. Before his Brooklyn arrival, Bridges had just one 30-point performance in 365 games with the Suns.
Based on his performance with the Nets, there’s a good shot of the 26-year old making an All-Star team. That didn’t seem possible just a month ago.
One aspect of Bridges’ game that has stood out has been how many free throws he’s taken. Bridges has already attempted 98 free throws in 15 games with the Nets. He only took 157 freebies in 82 games with Phoenix last year.
The free-throw attempts are also a surprise because Bridges hasn’t altered his shot diet much. He’s actually taking slightly less shots at the rim while seeing a modest uptick in midrange shot attempts.
Building a bridge for the future
Bridges is not a perfect player. He can still improve in his playmaking out of the pick-and-roll and in isolation. The Nets offense is scoring 112.9 points per 100 possessions with Bridges off the floor compared to the 107.7 points per 100 possessions in the 519 minutes Bridges has been on the floor, according to NBA Stats.
There is also room to grow in his shot selection. Can he get to the rim more? If he’s drawing fouls off drives, that could be really important in driving up his efficiency. Also, can he transform some of those midrange attempts into shots from behind the arc? That should be the next step the Nets look at for Bridges next season.
The next test for Bridges as a primary option will be the postseason. Defenses will lock in on the fifth-year player and it will be interesting to see if he’s able to excel. In Phoenix, he was no higher than the fourth option in the team’s two playoff runs.
With Brooklyn entering Sunday as the East’s No. 6 seed at 39-31, the team has a really good shot at still making the playoffs — and, at worst, having homecourt advantage in a potential play-in situation. Though Bridges has NBA Finals experience, being a primary option in a playoff series is different and will be important to his development.
Bridges’ first 15 games with the club have been impressive and he’s cemented himself as a key building block in Brooklyn’s rebuild and a potential All-Star. He might not be the number one option if the Nets are ever able to acquire a star and build back up to contender status, but Bridges has shown he can be the bridge to the team’s future.