Mikal Bridges had a season to remember this year with Villanova.
The 21-year-old Philadelphia native came back to school for his junior year after many scouts said he may not be a high draft pick in last year’s draft. Boy, was that the right decision. Bridges went on to win the 2018 National Championship with Villanova, and he raised his stock more than he could have ever hoped. With this dominant season, he took the spotlight and shined brighter than ever, which made teams and draft scouts all over the country take note of the potential career he can have in the NBA.
Bridges is a two-way 6’7” small forward type with a 7’0” wingspan. He averaged 17.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per game shooting 51.4% from the field and 43.5% from three for his junior season. He made the All-Big East first team and was named MVP of the Big East conference tournament. His leadership and skill led the Wildcats on to one of the most dominant NCAA Tournament runs we have seen in a while.
If you have followed Grizzly Bear Blues’ draft coverage to this point, you know that I am higher than most on Mikal Bridges. I had him ranked fourth in GBB’s Big Board. My reasoning is simple - he has one of the highest floors out of the top 10-15 prospects. Teams know what they are getting when drafting him, and he could only keep going up from there.
Bridges is your prototypical 3 and D guy who shoots well and defends. I cannot stress how important these players are in today’s game. He will be able to switch on anyone in any defensive scheme and will also bring the space to the court with his shooting ability.
With his major downside only coming with a lower ceiling than some of the young guns in the draft, it is pretty shocking that his current mock draft range is around the 8-12 pick. I believe when we all is said and done with this 2018 draft class, Mikal Bridges will make the All-Rookie 1st Team.
As mentioned, one of the most important pieces on a roster is the wing player who can size up and defend any position while also having the shooting ability to create mismatches. Bridges is exactly that type of prospect. He has the defensive tools built over a longer collegiate career which will translate well into the NBA. It all starts with versatility.
Bridges has the wingspan and length to switch on any guard or small forward with ease. He will use his lateral quickness to limit guards driving into the paint. We saw this over and over in college as his individual defensive rating was a 98.2. Coach Jay Wright ran a defensive system at Villanova which is very much like an NBA style he will see next year. In this system, he developed the instincts and basketball IQ to know when to jump passing lanes with certainty.
The one thing he should focus on is adding some weight on him to be able to hold his ground with the frontcourt guys he may be faced up against on any pick and roll actions. With an NBA training regimen, he should be able to contain the big men he’ll see in the league. All in all, Bridges’ defense is something that will translate immediately to the league.
Switching to the other side of the ball, Mikal Bridges has the offensive game that should entice teams that need floor spacing. Like defense, three-point shooting is something that is easily transferable to the NBA. He shot 43.5% from three in his junior season with Villanova. If he could get anywhere close to that his rookie season, it would be considered a success.
A perfect fit for Bridges would be a team who already has a ball dominant player to take the attention off the instant scoring. He can be the kick out man spreading the floor after the point guard has a quick drive to the basket.
With work on his shot creation with the ball in his hands, Bridges could turn into something special offensively. That is his biggest hurdle from being good to great in this year’s draft.
No matter the situation, all draft prospects find themselves compared and rated on the ceiling/floor comparison. Most draft prospects in this class have “high-ceilings.” Mikal Bridges falls a bit short in this aspect, and it all comes back to the age of the player.
Bridges will be about two years older than most of the top 10-15 guys in the draft class. Age impacts the decisions made by these teams because he is going to be the player you saw in college. Unlike the others, his game is what it is. This is a negative for Bridges and why he isn’t higher in the draft.
There really is not much Bridges can do about this slight on his game. He will just have to try and work relentlessly on features of his game that are lacking. The low ceiling rating is a curse, but it also has a flip in that the player more than likely has a high floor like Bridges does.
Individual Shot Creation
Even with his great field goal and three-point percentages, Bridges seems to struggle with creating his own shot. He has limited handles compared to more dominant ball handlers. This is on display with some of the shot selection around the rim on a fast break or on a three-point line drive. He knows he struggles taking players off the dribble to create his shot.
This also hurts his efficiency in a pick and roll offense. The vision for the pass is not normally there. He only averaged 2.4 assists per game in his junior season. If he can see the rolling big and get him the ball, his game would increase tremendously.
Shot creation should be his first priority when he walks into his new team’s practice facility. Every year, some prospect comes out of nowhere after learning how to create that they did not do in college. Bridges will have the facilities and full dedication to put towards this. If this happens, he will vault his game to another level.
Fit With The Grizzlies
My prediction is that he would fit in perfectly with the Grizzlies. He could slide next to Dillon Brooks and have length and size from their two young guys on the wing. It would be similar to Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum as we have seen in these playoffs. Plus, both guys have more experience going longer in college.
However, I do not think the Grizzlies will reach for him at four. It would be a complete mistake to take him at number 4. Not because I do not think he is top-5 talent, but because if the Grizzlies have him that high on their boards, they need to flip the pick into more assets and fall back to 8-12. He will most likely be there after these teams draft the players with a high ceiling.
Mikal Bridges is going to be a special talent in this league. He has the shooting and defense already, but now it is on him to work on creating his own shot. Then, the ceiling will be as high as any of the other prospects.
Player Comparisons: Otto Porter Jr., Robert Covington