Mikal Bridges’ departure from Phoenix was bittersweet. The 26-year-old had emerged as one of the league’s top two-way wings and a fan favorite during the Suns’ emergence to contender status. However, Bridges’ arrival in Brooklyn offered an opportunity he had not yet seen during his four-year NBA career:
The chance to lead an offense as the number one option.
Bridges has been up to the challenge during his six games in Brooklyn, averaging 23.8 points on 52.6 percent shooting from the field and 47 percent from three. The Villanova product scored a career-high 45 points against Miami to give the Nets their lone win during the stretch. He then dropped 31 points in Tuesday’s loss to the streaking Bucks, going toe to toe with Giannis Antetokounmpo for three quarters.
Mikal Bridges went OFF in the Nets W.
4 threes pic.twitter.com/UFT19T2NK1
— NBA (@NBA) February 16, 2023
Mikal Bridges predominately played in the shadow of Devin Booker and Chris Paul during his time with the Suns. However, with Paul regressing and Booker missing six weeks early this year with a groin strain, the forward showed promise as a lead shot-creator in Phoenix’s offense. Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn said that stint, along with Bridges’ dependability, gave Brooklyn confidence he could shoulder an increased burden following the trade.
“The first thing is the person. So I think that’s what we leaned into, the person he is,” Vaughn said of the team’s belief in Bridges. “You know he’s gonna work. He has an extreme care factor. Each and every game his motivation is to win. You saw it the way he shows up every day because he has a record of it. He did it in college, so he has shown evidence and proof.
And then you saw the days where Booker was out and he was the primary scorer, we saw how he adjusted and really flourished in that role. So we put the ball in his hands, we’ll continue to do so, and hopefully it allows us to play some other people with him.”
Bridges’ three-level scoring ability has been amplified during his time as the lead man in Brooklyn. The former lottery pick can use his quick first step and above-average length to attack and finish at the rim. He’s also flashed a smooth mid-range game, shooting 54.5 percent from 10-15 feet.
Mikalbow 🪣 pic.twitter.com/gTLGcExMw7
— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) March 1, 2023
Mikal Bridges offers a high-level catch-and-shoot threat but has not yet expanded his game to taking threes off the dribble. Just six of his 32 three-point attempts with the Nets have come off the bounce. He’s converted on just one of them. The addition of that skill to Bridges’ game could vastly raise his ceiling in the coming years.
While Bridges has shown promising returns during his short time in Brooklyn, the pitfalls of a starless offense have been evident. The Nets have struggled to produce down the stretch in several of their losses. Bridges is also among Brooklyn’s top defenders, drawing the opposition’s top scorer on a nightly basis. That’s an area he said continues to be his top focus following his career-best scoring night.
And Vaughn said growing pains should be expected as Bridges adjusts to the added offensive load.
“It takes a lot,” the coach said of Bridges’ adjustment. “He’s now probably going to be guarded by the number one or number two defender. So when we play Chicago, (Alex) Caruso is guarding, Pat Williams is guarding, where when he was with Phoenix, Coby White might have been guarding, not as distinguished of a defender. So you have the physical piece of that.
Then you have the mental piece of we need you to score tonight for us to have a chance to win. And so there’s a different burden that’s on you Mikal in his life right now, which is great. It’s our job to unlock that potential and put the basketball in his hands and let him grow. That’s where we are as an organization. So I look forward to it, the challenge of doing it together with him, but it is a challenge.”
The Nets have fallen behind the Knicks to sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings amid a three-game losing streak. Brooklyn will have an opportunity to make up ground in the standings when they face the Knicks at MSG Wednesday before traveling to Boston Friday.