Name: Mikal Bridges
Position: Shooting Guard/Small Forward
Dimensions: 6’7” tall, 7’2” wingspan, weighs 209 pounds
Stats: Averaged 17.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.1 blocks, and 1.4 turnovers in 32.1 minutes per game in his junior season. Shot 51.4% from the field, 43.5% from three (6.0 attempts), and 85.1% from the free throw line (3.4 attempts).
Mikal Bridges is one of the most well-rounded prospects in this years’ draft, but the ability that is most immediately transferable to the NBA is his outside shooting. Bridges was one of the best three-point marksmen in the NCAA last year, shooting the ball at a very high percentage at a relatively high rate. He has a quick, high shot release, making it difficult for defenders to contest his shot well. Bridges is best as a spot-up shooter, but is also a fantastic shooter running off screens, and Villanova was able to use his size to create shots for him that wouldn’t have been available for smaller players. Mikal can also hit threes off the dribble, though that is a bit more of a work in progress for him—his form isn’t as consistent when taking those shots. Nonetheless, there’s no reason to think Bridges won’t be a very good three-point shooter in the NBA.
Unlike other prospects of his ilk, who are billed as “3 and D” but are missing one (sometimes even both) of the required components, Bridges brings the defense along with the shooting. He is a smart, canny defensive player who uses his length and size to good effect when closing out on shooters, helping around the basket, and bothering ball-handlers on the pick and roll. Mikal has good instincts as a defender, rotating smartly and quickly. He is also an advanced pick navigator for his age, with strong technique for fighting his way through screens and making his body small to stay in contact with his man. His size and length are invaluable when switching onto other players, making Bridges a multi-positional defensive player who can at least do a respectable job on players at almost any position.
But Bridges isn’t just a 3 and D player: he is a far more versatile offensive player than that. Mikal had some experience running pick and rolls at Villanova, transforming into an expert at pulling up in the midrange. When he gets a mismatch on a smaller player, he can punish them in the post or bully his way to the basket. When larger players guard him on the perimeter, he has a good enough handle and burst to blow past them to the hoop. And when Mikal gets to the rim, he’s a fantastic finisher, again using that size and length to finish around and over players. While he’s not a truly explosive athlete, he’s an above average one that can finish above the rim easily, even in traffic, which makes his superb cutting ability even more lethal. Wrapping up the whole package, Bridges played in an NBA-style offense at Villanova and excelled, showing that he has the chops to fit right in with the way the modern NBA is leaning in terms of quick decisions, ball-movement, and capable ball-handlers.
Moving past on-court talents, Mikal has had every stereotypical intangible thrown on him in college and the draft process. He’s competitive, smart, a leader, and a hard worker who is always trying to improve his game. Such phrases are thrown around like confetti in the stretch leading up to the draft, but they really seem to apply to Mikal. He was one of the leaders on a Villanova team that was the best in college basketball last year and won the NCAA championship in dominating fashion. That level of success matters to scouts and NBA executives.
While Mikal’s handle isn’t bad, it’s also not a real strength. It can get too high at times, and he doesn’t possess the counter-moves and isolation dribbles that can free him against top-notch perimeter defenders. Therefore, when he doesn’t have a mismatch in isolation, it can be hard for him to break down the defense without the aid of a pick. This lack of creation is made worse by Bridges’ merely middling playmaking/passing ability. While he’s a willing passer and can make simple reads, he didn’t show the ability to run an offense or consistently create shots for others at Villanova. Then again, that’s not how their offense worked. But in the NBA, Bridges will probably be better as part of a flowing offensive system (like Villanova’s) than as a true focal point of an offense.
Mikal’s lateral quickness defensively is also a bit of an issue. He can slide his feet well enough and his length makes up for a lot, but he can get blown by relatively easily by quicker guards. It might be tough for him to guard the best guards out on the perimeter in isolation—he probably won’t be a lockdown defender ala Kawhi Leonard or Tony Allen. Bridges also possesses a somewhat skinny frame, and he could certainly get bullied around the basket by bigger players when switched onto them in the post. Again, his wingspan should help him there, but it might not be enough against physical players who can just push him under the basket. Similarly to his offense, Bridges will fit in well on a strong defensive unit, and will certainly be a helpful presence on that end, but he’s unlikely to be the type of defender who can carry a whole team with his efforts.
Fit with Clippers:
Mikal is probably the best pure fit of any prospect that’s even somewhat realistic to drop to the 12/13 range. He brings the height and length that the Clippers have needed on the wing for years, he projects as an at least above-average defensive player for a team that was horrid defensively last season, and he should be a knockdown three-point shooter. Those are all tools that are highly valued in the NBA in 2018 in general but are even more useful on a Clippers’ team that desperately needs each of those qualities.
While the Clippers have several players who can theoretically play small forward, their list of NBA caliber rotation players at the position numbers just one: Tobias Harris. Danilo Gallinari, Wes Johnson, and Sam Dekker can mop up minutes at the 3 if necessary, but all are better suited to playing power forward in today’s NBA. Bridges would therefore have clear minutes at backup small forward right away, and could also get further time at shooting guard over guys like Sindarius Thornwell and CJ Williams due to his shooting. And if the Clippers are in a rebuild mode, there’s nothing stopping him from getting 30+ minutes a night—he’s NBA ready, and should be able to play big minutes from the jump.
I’m not sure why Mikal Bridges seems to be falling in mock drafts. He’s an older prospect, sure, and doesn’t possess the upside of guys like Kevin Knox or Lonnie Walker IV, but he’s good, and he’s the exact kind of player that NBA teams have desperately been looking for over the past half-decade. Mikal probably won’t be the best offensive or defensive player on any team and is an unlikely bet to make an All-NBA team. But it’s so easy to picture him as the 3rd or 4th best player on a championship level team (yes, championship), or the 2nd best player on a good playoff team (ala Khris Middleton).
Mikal is well-rounded, bringing strengths that every team needs, and with weaknesses that should be relatively easy to paper over. Any team would love to add a player with his skillset, and his abilities should translate to the NBA rather quickly, making him one of the most “NBA-ready” prospects in the draft. I don’t think Mikal will be present at the 12th pick in the draft (Philly at 10 seems like a perfect marriage), but if he is, I can’t imagine the Clippers passing on him. He fulfills every intangible that they’ve been emphasizing during the draft process, and is a fantastic fit on their current roster. Mikal isn’t a swing for the fences, but instead provides the surety of a solid base-hit.