If there's one positive the Brooklyn Nets can take from their 119-106 loss in Orlando Sunday, it's that Mikal Bridges has the look of a budding star. The breakout forward poured in 44 points, one shy of his career high, on 13-of-22 shooting from the field and 6-of-9 from three.
Bridges set career high's in free-throw attempts and makes in the loss, converting on 12-of-12 attempts after going 10-of-11 in Miami the night prior. The 26-year-old is shooting 49 percent from the mid-range with Brooklyn. That lethal efficiency has allowed him to capitalize on over-zealous defenders and draw fouls as he gains more reps as a ball handler.
Automatic from the Mikalbow pic.twitter.com/o4y20TJuYT
— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) March 26, 2023
The former Sun said Sunday that his years playing a complementary role behind Devin Booker and Chris Paul, as well as his experience guarding the league's best ball handlers, allowed him to pick up on tricks of the trade:
“Just trying to get to the line, trying to be aggressive,” Bridges said during the Nets' postgame presser. “That’s just a big thing and coming from Phoenix, you know, watching a lot of and being right there with a lot of (Devin) Booker and CP3 and how they draw fouls. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned a lot from guarding the top guys and me getting silly fouls just because they’re so smart and they just give me an angle to let me foul them. So just learning.”
“But yeah it’s an emphasis to just try to be aggressive. Good things happen when you get in the paint or go to the line. Just kinda opens the game up.”
Brooklyn's starters outside of Bridges shot an abysmal 9-of-35 (25.7 percent) in the loss Sunday. Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn credited his leading scorer's aggressive mindset for keeping his team in the game.
“I think his approach was very aggressive tonight from the beginning of the game. We needed that,” Vaughn said. “That kept us in the game early. But overall this is going to be a team effort for us throughout the course of the year. It's not going to be a one-person show for us. So everyone's got to be prepared to play and we got to play well.”
Sunday marks Bridges’ ninth 30-point performance in 20 games with the Nets after reaching the total just twice in four and a half seasons with Phoenix. Since arriving in Brooklyn, the former lottery pick is averaging 26.8 points on 50/41/91 shooting splits while attempting a career-high 6.7 free throws per game, the 16th-most in the league.