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NBA Draft 2018 Scouting Profile: Mikal Bridges

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The two-time champion is one of the better 3-and-D prospects in recent years, and his strong development during his final season at Villanova hints that there is plenty of growth still to come.

NCAA Basketball: Georgetown at Villanova Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Author’s Note: I wrote the entirety of this profile back when the chance that the Kings would be out of Bridges’ draft range was a measly 18.3%. Now that they’re slotted No. 2, it’s incredibly unlikely that Mikal will end up in Sacramento, but I’m not going to mute myself on a player I consider one of the more interesting prospects in the draft.

NBA Position: Wing

General Information: 21 years old, played for Villanova. From Malvern, PA.

Measurables: 6’7, 210 lbs, 7’0.5 wingspan, 8’4” standing reach.

2016-17 Season Statistics: 17.7 PPG, 1.9 APG, 5.3 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 1.1 BPG, 1.4 TOPG (40 games played, 32.1 minutes a contest) – 51.4% FG, 85.1% FT, 43.5% 3P

Summary: The two-time Champion is one of the better 3-and-D prospects in recent years, and his development during his final season at Villanova hints at plenty of growth still to come. He’s a near-elite spot-up shooter who sank 40% of his threes at Villanova, and backed that up by also being one of the best wing AND help defenders in the NCAA. He’s got a great collection of physical tools, highlighted by his quick bounce, 7 foot wingspan, and excellent intensity.

Mikal doesn’t have the scoring ceiling that others at the top of my board do—if you’re purely looking for star equity, he’s probably not your selection. But the player he already IS is incredibly valuable in the modern game, and ANY additional growth as an creator would send his game skyrocketing.

Offensive Breakdown: Bridges’ immediate value comes in his deep shooting. He shot 40% from three in his college career (43.5% this season on 236 attempts), and was in the 98th percentile for spot-up shots, scoring 1.34 points per possession on 47.6% shooting (per Synergy). Most of his spot-ups were on catch-and-shoot jumpers, and his combination of length and vertical pop keeps his release out of range of defenders. In the beautiful Villanova offense, Mikal was a wizard at keeping himself moving off-ball, but even when defenders stuck with him, he showed repeated ability to elevate over them and hit shots on the move. This release is going to be a weapon at the next level.

With the departure of Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart last summer, Bridges was asked to handle a much larger load on offense. His increased usage rate (15.3% last year to 23.2% this year) came with only small drops in his efficiency (67.6% true shooting to 65.5%). He IMPROVED his three-point shooting to 43.5% despite more than doubling his attempts, and also cut his turnover rate from 15% to 9.1%.

A memorable stretch of Bridges’ shooting prowess was when he went nova against the Alabama. A number of these were open, but there were some contested looks that highlight his ability to get quick shots over closing defenders.

A strong step in Bridges’ development this season was his success shooting off screens, which would be a huge advantage in the NBA if he can become consistent enough and is paired with the right bigs. Granted, it was barely more than 5% of his offense (31 attempts, 1.29 PPP, 42.9% shooting, 91st percentile), but a wise NBA team should try to unlock this as the next step in his shooting diversity.

While he’s instinctual about adjusting on shots, he’s less confident when the play doesn’t end with a clear drive or a spot-up. Here, he drives Gonzaga’s Silas Melson—a 6’4 guard—into the paint, but doesn’t have the ability to do much when the fake doesn’t work (or the passing instincts to toss it to Peyton Heck earlier in the drive). He wisely passes out, relocates, and gets another look... and then dribbles off his foot.

The entirety of that play—the lack of (1) creation ability when he’s met with resistance, (2) passing IQ, and (3) a less-than-stellar handle—captures everything concerning about Mikal’s offensive game. And while he’s gotten better at those skills, they’re going to have to be seriously refined before he’s a multi-demensional scorer at the NBA level.

You can trust (as I do) that a gym rat with a proven work ethic like Mikal will iron out some of the problems, but until proven otherwise, Bridges will primarily be a shooting threat in the pros. A very high-level shooter, but a shooter nonetheless. Still, just fixing one of those weaknesses would unlock a chance for serious offensive growth, which is why the “low ceiling” term is mislabeled on Mikal.

It’s not like Bridges hasn’t had flashes of ability on drives. Immediate work on his handle could unlock some craftiness closer to the basket, but he’s got the speed and length to get some nice layups, turnarounds, and dunks. It’s just not with the regularity it could be.

And there are some flashes—again, inconsistent—of him using a fadeaway in isolation plays. These plays aren’t against NBA talent or at NBA speed, but if his handle and creativity ever matches up with his shooting ability, this would be a area of serious potential refinement.

Another area for growth is as a playmaker. It wasn’t his role at Villanova, but finishing with only 77 assists on the year (10.6% assist rate on a 23% usage rate) is pretty ugly for a guy who needs to be as versitile on offense as possible. He’d have fewer of the “lost in transition” dead drives if he reacted to multiple defenders quicker and found open teammates. In the play below against Gonzaga, he has multiple teammates open at different parts of the drive, but waits until it’s too late and earns himself a travel call instead.

But like his driving ability, it isn’t a hopeless cause. There are moments where he correctly reads defenses and finds teammates with good passes... they’re just maddeningly inconsistent.

Finally, while he’s not the smoothest athlete, he’s solidly in the “woh, where did THAT come from?!” athletic tier. He can throw down monster dunks with his long strides, long leaps, and long arms.

Defensive Breakdown: Before venturing into borderline hyperbole about his defense, it’s important to define what he isn’t. He’s not an cheat-code fully-switchable all-position defender at the NBA level—and least, not until he (1) significantly bulks up to guard bigs, and (2) figures out how to tweek his stance/flexibility so he can flip his hips quicker when guarding smaller, quicker opponents.

There will be many forwards who will clear out a side of the floor and back Mikal up. He’s added significant strength to his naturally skinny frame, but it’s not fair to avoid mentioning the weakness when it was a primary worry of mine with Justin Jackson last season. His length and instincts will help, as will a professional weight program, but he’s a solid ways away from being able to guard Paul George or switch onto LeBron James.

And while his projected value on defense is guarding/switching onto the best guard/wing opponent, he’s not without concerns. Check out the clip below.

Mikal makes the right read, but in his haste to get to the opponent (who is in no way an NBA prospect), he puts himself somewhat out of position. He can’t flip his hips and get on track quick enough, which leads to a layup that even his reach can’t swat. He showed this same problem twice against Collin Sexton and Alabama in the Sweet Sixteen; he’s a very solid athlete, but his ability to change directions at high speed is a bit tight, so he needs to get smarter at finding the right coverage angles before he’ll be able to contain the NBA’s top guards.

But while he sometimes struggled with players at the polar ends of the physical spectrum, Mikal overall was a dynamic collegiate defender and allowed match-ups to shoot just 31% against him, per Synergy (.68 PPP, 91st percentile). Of players with at least 250 possessions as the on-ball defender, Mikal was 21st overall in the country for lowest points per possession allowed, and 5th overall for power conference players.

In the play above, Mikal ends up guarding Silas Melson, Rui Hachimura, and Josh Perkins in the span of 17 seconds. Credit must go to the entire Villanova team for being so damn smart about handling screens and switches, but Mikal was the linchpin of this championship defense. He confidently and seamlessly switched onto most assignments.

Gonzaga eagerly tries to swap Bridges onto Killian Tillie here, but Mikal sniffs out the predictable fadeaway and swats it with ease. Again, Bridges shouldn’t be expected to guard fours at the next level, but if he can add that needed bulk without sacrificing his hops, it would only further unlock switchablity options for his future team.

Most importantly, Mikal is an elite defensive event creator, snagging 1.9 steals (2.7% rate) and 1.3 blocks (3.5% rate) per 40 minutes. His long arms, quick feet, and great instincts make him a wrecking ball both on the ball and as a help defender. Peep this OT forcing block against Creighton, and a string of other defensive highlights that showcase his instincts and Gumby arms giving opponents nightmares.

Given Mikal’s size, the Mikal/Robert Covington comparison (that I’ve used) is a bit of a mismatch; a more apt comparison is a taller, longer, higher-ceiling version of Josh Richardson (no slight to Josh, one of the better wing defenders in the league), or a slightly shorter version of Otto Porter (who was also just 200 pounds coming out of college).

Intangibles:

Mikal went from redshirting his freshman year, to a super-sub on a championship team the next year, to co-leading a dominant title run. He’s seen tremendous growth during that stretch, going from a lanky dunker to a three-point shooting wizard. By all accounts, Bridges is a hard worker who has soaked up everything Jay Wright has tried to teach him. If you need more optimism on Bridges, check out this great profile by Mirin Fader at Bleacher Report (ignore the clickbatey title).

A major critic of Bridges’ potential is his age—due to his four years at Villanova, he will be 22 before the season starts. While it’s certainly fair to wonder if that would limit his ceiling, it’s also key to remember that older players can still have strong development curves. Remember Buddy Hield back in 2016? A 22 year old senior who, as I wrote in my draft breakdown, “never showed great passing instincts, nor a consistent ability nor effort on defense?” Two years later, he’s made really solid strides as an on-ball defender and nearly doubled his APG after the All Star break (1.5 to 2.8 after the break). Besides, if Mikal had been drafted after his second year, and was thus a 2-year NBA pro at this point, wouldn’t a team that had selected him in the lottery be happy with this development?

Mikal isn’t a flawless prospect, but collegiate loyalties aside, I’m all for betting on a guy who can do this.

It’s hard not to be confident in a player who can make that dunk, follows it up with a transition block, and is equally engaged on both ends of the court.

Fit with Sacramento:

Strong 3-and-D wings are as valuable a role as you’ll find in the modern NBA blueprint, and the Kings desperately need both of those skills. Mikal isn’t the projectable scorer Luka Doncic, DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley, Michael Porter Jr., or even Trae Young are, but hard-capping his ceiling—given the work ethic and development he’s shown while playing on the best team of the last half-decade—doesn’t make sense.

As our resident even-toed ungulate mammal pointed out, 56% of the Kings offensive plays last season were generated through either pick-and-roll, transition, or spot-up shooting plays. Mikal was in the 90th percentile for scoring as the pick-and-roll ball handler, 90th percentile in transition plays, and 98th percentile in spot-up shots. De’Aaron Fox needs shooters who can (try to) keep up with him in the open court, and Mikal would give the Kings another real shooting threat to play alongside one of Hield or Bodgan Bogdanovic without sacrificing size and defensive ability. Joerger has also shown the ability to turn non-playmakers (Willie Cauley-Stein, Hield) into surprisingly solid passers.

On defense, the Kings desperately need SMART, ENGAGED defenders, and Mikal’s ability to cover/switch onto most guards/wings would go a long way to exercising those demons beneath the Golden 1 Center floor that turn shooters invisible to Kings defenders. Given that Fox, Buddy, and Bogi are all liable to lose their covers occasionally/frequently, a secondary help defender who knows when to rush over would be a big boon to covering up their own weaknesses.

Mikal would give the Kings significant help in serious areas of weakness, and there is no reason to think he’s done developing. He’s refined shooter and will be enormously helpful for any modern NBA offense, provides switchable and hyper-effective defensive instincts, and has clear avenues to unlocking a ton more in his game.