6’7, 210 lbs, 7’1+ wingspan
Date of Birth: August 30, 1996
I finished this article back on 2/28/18 (at 1:32 PM, for those interested) but never posted it. I was a little busy at the time so couldn’t post it, and then had to reset my computer and lost the files…until I re-found them on my external hard drive a little while later. Anyways, here it is. I’ve been a fan of Mikal since last year when he was arguably the best perimeter defender in college basketball showing signs of a 3/D potential, but this year he really took the step. He took his game from late first round / early second round prospect to a lottery lock.
Athleticism, height, and length
Over the last few season, Bridges has been viewed as one of, if not the best, perimeter defenders in college basketball. At 6’7 with a 7’1 wingspan, Jay Wright (Villanova’s coach) put Bridges on everyone from point guard to power forwards. Why? He is simply that versatile. He has the quickness to defend point guards, and if the guy is quicker than him, Bridges is smart enough to back off just enough to use his length to bother the offensive player instead of worry about being beat off the dribble. Guarding bigger players, Bridges has great length (a wingspan LONGER than the average PF and only two inches shorter than centers) and gets down low enough in his stance to make backing him down difficult. However, Bridges is still on the thin side and has room to grow into his frame, both in his upper body and lower body. Once he fills out his frame, he’ll be able to handle more minutes as a small ball 4 against bench units. Until then, he will likely be only playing the wing positions.
Bridges is not someone who is going to kill you with speed, burst, or vertical athleticism. It is likely he becomes slightly more athletic as he works out with NBA trainers, but this is probably his biggest shortcoming at the moment. He is able to get by his limitations using his length and having a very high basketball IQ on both sides. As mentioned above, he uses his length effectively on defense when he is not quick enough to stay with more athletic guys by backing off of them just enough to where he can still bother them, but keep his ability to recover. Bridges is also very light on his feet and is almost always in perfect defensive position and knows how to defend using angles and the sideline / baseline as extra defenders (in addition to knowing where his help is coming from). Rather than reach, he plays with his feet and wingspan.
Even though Bridges’ lack of elite athleticism limits his absolute ceiling, it does not severely limit to the point where he is not going to be an effective player. Why? Two major reasons. First, what he lacks in athleticism he makes up for (and then some) with his IQ. If you want to teach someone how to defend at the college level, give them tape of Bridges. Second, his work ethic. Over the last few years, Jay Wright has slowly expanded his role on Villanova. With this expansion, Bridges has been able to be more aggressive every year and add new dimensions to his game. Whether it’s an added post game, showing the ability to hit mid-range jumpers out of the PnR, or being more than just a spot up shooter, Bridges has improved tremendously over the last few years with an increased role on offense. Given his great improvements since coming to college, I see someone who wants to work and will continue to work into the pros.
Do I ever think he will be a 25, 5, 5 player? No. I don’t think he has that shot-first mentality to do that, nor do I think it’ll be good for a team if he’s forced into that position. However, I can see him becoming an 18-20PPG, 5RPG, 4APG player with great defense and great efficiency. Although maybe not a franchise player you can build around, that’s a franchise cornerstone that every team needs.
Over his first two years, Bridges averaged ~5 shots per game and ~half of them came from three, mostly on spot ups. The rest of his baskets came on the break and garbage buckets and cuts. This year, he’s up to ~12 shots per game and ~6 from three. In only three more minutes per game from last year, he’s almost doubled his attempts. He’s also been more aggressive attacking, leading to nearly 2 more attempts from the line per game from last year (1.6 to 3.4).
Below you will find a chart showing the basic Synergy stats on offense, as well as clips showing what he is doing.
Efficiency – 97th percentile on spot up, 80th as PnR ball handler (when shooting), 95th off screens, 83rd in transition (enjoys flaring out to an open 3 on initial break or secondary break), 89th on all jump shots, 92nd on catch and shoot,
Whether it’s coming off screens, running the secondary break, or spotting up, Mikal is a lights out shooter. He does a great job at finding the open space and being ready to shoot upon the catch. He has a smooth high release with great balance and a nice follow through – does not short arm the shot. Bridges has even shown flashes of an off the bounce mid-range coming off a screen.
Efficiency – 72nd percentile posting up (very good), 92nd percentile when looking for own shot
Bridges has a pretty basic post game – he LOVES going middle and does a nice job getting to his spot from either side. From the middle, he either continues to bully his way to the rim for an easy drop hook or he seals his man on his back as he goes for a bank hook. He also does an excellent job setting up his defender, keeping his defender on his back when he’s making his move to get position in the post, and keeping position there.
However, as stated above, his post game is very basic and it does not include any turnaround jumpers, up and unders, counter-moves, or other more complex moves – every move he makes starts off going middle. Through 2/28, from the clips I watched on Synergy, Mikal did not take a single turnaround jumper or make any other move that started with something other than going middle. It’s not an issue in college because he is bigger than the guys guarding him, but in order to stay efficient in the post going forward, he needs to expand his game. When passing out of the post, the percentile drops to 20th. It’s hard to fault Bridges entirely for this as Villanova is shooting an abysmal 5 of 18 on spot ups, but the 48 shots vs 19 pass out of the post is problematic – it shows he tends to look only for his shot in the post and forces some ugly misses.
Bridges does an excellent job cutting back door when the ball handler dribbles at him and finding the open spots, either leading to spot up shots or baseline cuts and shots in the paint. It seems like the moment he sees his defender turn his back to him, Mikal reads that and immediately cuts to the rim.
Efficiency – 93rd percentile overall, 80th percentile looking for shot, 95th percentile hitting teammate. 8% turnover rate in PnR.
According to Synergy, Bridges has only had 70 possessions with PnR derived offense. Even though it’s not a huge sample size, for a secondary/tertiary creator, who is in his first year in this role, it is fine. What I like about the split, is that 38/70 of his possession in the PNR are him looking for his own shot and 32 are him looking for his teammates. This is a nice division and shows he does not have tunnel vision or a singular focus and makes his decision based on what the defender is doing. (There is a clip below on him running the PnR, being doubled, and instead of being flustered, he reverse pivots and kicks it to Spellman who was open.) What is even more promising is that 20 of the 30 passes to teammates are kickouts to teammates – instead of forcing a pass to the role man, Bridges is showing that he can hit the open guy. This shows good court awareness and an ability to see a larger portion of the floor. As of right now, I would not consider this skill as a major positive – in that, I wouldn’t expect him to come in day one and be able to contribute like that. However, the fact that he has a good base leads me to believe that he can be a good secondary/tertiary creator in the NBA.
Efficiency – 41st percentile
This is his biggest area for concern. Out of isolations, Bridges will sometimes settle for long jumpers because he cannot get by his man, which is where his lack of burst comes in. In addition, his handle is pretty bland with no dribble moves beyond the basics, which also probably limits his iso-versatility. Even though his dribble set can improve over time with practice, I would not expect isolating on the perimeter to become a big part of his game. Can I see him becoming more proficient posting up and getting more iso touches there? Of course. But in terms of breaking down the defense 1 on 1, there is no base skill set at the moment (at the very least, he hasn’t shown any) and it is not something I would project becoming a major skill of his going forward.
Efficiency – 90th percentile (30.1FG%), 80th percentile defending the PnR Ball Handler, 89th in spot ups, 87th in postups, and 43rd (average) in isolation.
Bridges is an unbelievable defender and probably the best defender in college basketball. With Villanova’s switching scheme, Bridges has been guarding literally every position on the floor. Until he gets stronger, I see him primarily as a 2/3 defender who can also guard 1s (but not full time). Watching him play defense, you can immediately see a few things – his head is always on a swivel, he does an excellent job splitting the court in half and helping when he’s on the weak side, and when he gets beat he is able to effectively use his length to alter the shots.