Phoenix Suns swingman Mikal Bridges had one of the most low-key (semi) breakout seasons as a rookie last term. So much hype surrounded the likes of Luka Doncic, Trae Young, and even Deandre Ayton, that most people failed to recognize the noteworthy things Bridges was doing for the Suns.
Bridges' production last season was by no means eye-popping. He averaged 8.3 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 2.1 assists, while also connecting on 1.3 three-pointers in 29.5 minutes per contest. However, where this young man stands out is on the defensive end. Not only did he swat 0.5 blocks per game last year, but the former 10th overall pick also logged a very impressive 1.6 steals per contest. Bridges actually ranked eighth overall in the entire league in steals with a total of 129 swipes in 2018-19.
It is worth noting that Bridges started 56 games for Phoenix last season (he played in all 82 regular season contests). However, this time around, Kelly Oubre Jr. is widely expected to take over as the team's starting small forward, relegating Bridges to a bench role.
The good news for Bridges is that this “demotion” might actually be what leads to a massive breakout year for him. The 23-year-old should serve as the team's defensive anchor in the second unit, and alongside Tyler Johnson and newcomers Frank Kaminsky and Aron Baynes, the Suns are expected to have a more formidable bench this season.
Coming off the bench, Bridges is not likely going to hit the 29.5-minute mark he averaged as a rookie. He should expect to play closer to 23 minutes per ballgame this season, but again, this does not necessarily mean that his role will be reduced. As a matter of fact, one can argue that Suns head coach Monty Williams will be expecting more from Bridges this term as one of the most important pieces of the second unit.
Bridges is already one of the best young defenders in the league today, and he has shown that he has the potential to be a top-tier defender in a few years' time. He fits the mold of a highly-effective 3-and-D guy for the Suns, and it is likely that he has worked on his three-point shooting this summer.
Bridges is not expected to stuff the stat sheet on a nightly basis, but if he is able to successfully grow into the role Phoenix requires of him, then it would not come as a surprise if he turns out to be one of the breakout stars of this season.