The six-foot-seven junior forward did just about everything well for the Wildcats this past season, logging 17.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1.5 steals in 32 minutes per contest for Jay Wright‘s Villanova squad.
In his first two seasons with Villanova, Bridges averaged just eight points per game in 24.5 minutes of playing time for Jay Wright‘s Wildcats. In his first season in 2015-2016 Bridges emerged as a key rotational player for Villanova, scoring 6.4 points per game while grabbing 3.2 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game for the Wildcats. Villanova would go on to win the NCAA National Championship that season.
During his sophomore campaign last season Bridges started 33 games and averaged 9.8 points per game to go along with 71 assists, 60 steals and 32 blocks in just under 30 minutes per game. Bridges was named the co-winner of the Big East Defensive Player of the Year Award and boasted a superb 54 percent shooting percentage from the floor and 39 percent from distance.
This season, Bridges’ draft stock skyrocketed from a mid-late first rounder, to a top-10 lottery selection on the strength of an increased role, and his bevy of strengths on both sides of the ball. Bridges profiles as a talented two-way forward, and will likely hear his name called no later than No. 10 on draft night.
I’ve seen Bridges play live while covering a December matchup between Villanova and DePaul at Wintrust Arena, and I’ve spent plenty of hours watching video on Bridges, who is easily my favorite draft prospect outside of the top four or five so called “can’t miss” prospects in the lottery.
My favorite quality that Bridges possesses is on display in every play you watch him make, and that is his relentless aggressiveness and ability to see the play through and fluster his opponent in any way that he can.
Whether it be his feverish on-ball defense, his ability to close out, or his shot blocking ability (43 in 40 games this past season) — Bridges makes his assignment’s evening a nightmare more often than not.
In the clip below, Bridges flashes both his shot-blocking ability and his persistence to see the play through, blocking back-to-back shot attempts by Nicholls State guard Roddy Peters, the Colonels best scorer this past season at 19.7 PPG.
Coming into this season, his biggest “weakness” per say, was his scoring ability. However, it’s safe to say, that Bridges has put that theory to bed after his 2017-18 performance.
Not only did Bridges shoot a paltry 43 percent from deep this season, he shot almost 60 percent on two-point attempts (59.3) and a crisp 51 percent overall. Bridges turned himself into a knockdown threat from deep, but really honed his ability to create for himself off the dribble, and bang it up with fellow bigs down low.
In the clip below, you can see Bridges going to work in the post, backing down Butler big-man Kelan Martin (6’6,” 215-lbs) for the bucket.
Here’s a trio of scoring plays by Bridges, displaying his ability to get buckets outside, inside and in transition, really highlighting his multifaceted scoring attack that he worked hard to improve this season.
One of my favorite attributes that Bridges displays regularly, is the ability to be a step ahead of the offense. Here’s a clip of Bridges intercepting a pass from Providence’s Kyron Cartwright by jumping the passing lane at the perfect time.
Kyron Cartwright was considered one of the top guards in the Big East this past season, and averaged 5.8 assists per game for the Friars, so he’s no average ball-mover.
Bridges’ ability to fill the passing lanes makes opponents reluctant to pass the ball when he’s in the area, knowing he has the ability to snuff out the move and cause a turnover.
Here’s a perfect look at his feverish on-ball defense; working in a full-court press with fellow Wildcat’ Phil Booth (5), Bridges forces the turnover by Butler guard Aaron Thompson (2), and then frees himself up for an easy alley-oop jam off the feed by Booth.
Jumping back to the offensive side of the ball real quick, here’s a pair of offensive possessions in a contest versus Butler, once again showing off a more complete offensive attack by Bridges. In possession number one, you have Bridges knocking down a triple from the corner. In possession number two, Bridges is creating for himself off the dribble, cutting into multiple defenders in the paint and getting the basket and the foul.
The most inaccurate label bestowed upon Bridges to this point is that of the, “3-and-D Wing.” Anyone who would limit his offensive ability to solely a spot-up three point shooter, just hasn’t done their due diligence in the film room.
I think if in five years from now, we look at Mikal Bridges and refer to him by that moniker, that would be a case of Bridges not living up to his potential, a worst-case scenario in terms of projection for him.
More realistically, Bridges is going to be a two-way machine in the NBA, Ala Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs. Kawhi can beat you in multiple ways offensively, and he is one of the best defenders in the NBA.
I would peg Kawhi as a ceiling comparison for Bridges, and even if Bridges never reaches Kawhi-level greatness, his floor is much higher than the likes of Trae Young or Mo Bamba, who could be available at No. 7.
Bridges will take his 51 percent scoring clip, and his elite defensive skills to the NBA and plug himself into a lottery team’s starting five come opening night 2018, and you can book that. In fact, Bridges could probably be playing minutes as a rotation guy on any one of the four teams in the conference finals right now.
The one pause I have with Bridges lies within his ability to translate his newly developed dribble-drive scoring ability to the NBA level. However, given his incredible progression in his first season with a primary scorer’s role, I have no reason to believe that he’s incapable of adjusting and replicating that same success at the next level.
As far as NBA readiness is concerned — he starred on a two-time national championship team, earned NCAA All-Tournament honors this past title run, and played in a power conference in the Big East for three years under the tutelage of Jay Wright — I’d say, much like his teammate Jalen Brunson, he’s one of the more NBA-ready prospects in the draft.
If Bridges is the guy for Chicago at No. 7, his Seven-foot wingspan, his newly developed well-rounded offensive arsenal, and his even more impressive defensive capabilities will immediately address one of two holes in the Bulls’ starting lineup at the small forward position.
In today’s NBA, the opponents best scorer is usually a two guard or a wing player, and Bridges will get the assignment for the Bulls at the three. Bridges’ defensive prowess is on display in this excellent cut from SB Nation below.
Bridges is a day one starter for the Bulls at the small forward position based solely on his defense, and if Bridges can parlay his offensive strides to the NBA, he’s a lock at the position for years.
Even if Bridges was only tasked with taking on the opponents primary scorer, and shooting 40-plus percent from deep while he worked to hone his dribble-drive game at the professional level, he’s well worth pick if the likes of Marvin Bagley III and Michael Porter, Jr. are off the board when the Bulls are on the clock.
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