Villanova’s steady swingman has provided consistent shooting and defense during his collegiate tenure. Now, ready to move on to the pros, the Knicks could desperately use Bridges’ talents in the immediate and long-term direction of the franchise.
Four consecutive 30+ win seasons, two NCAA championships in the span of five years. In a climate in which elite programs consistently go all in on blue-chip players, Coach Jay Wright has established a culture that instills defensive playmaking from its players at Villanova University. Mikal Bridges, who was a red-shirt freshman during the 2016 championship year, has steadily increased his role and two-way skills under Wright. Heading into the draft, Bridges is one of the more well-rounded players that will be available for the Knicks.
The Knicks are in dire need of continuity on the wing. Even though the NBA is going away from “position-less basketball,” the reality is that 3-and-D players come at a premium now. Young guys that you can shape an offense and defense around are the second priority after you acquire that once-in-a-generation talent. Bridges could be the final piece in the Knicks’ quest for creating a three-headed monster for the future.
Let’s break down the championship-pedigreed Wildcat.
Length, Length, and more Length
If you can’t out-shoot them, then your best bet is to build a wall around the perimeter. Mikal Bridges touts a seven-foot wingspan. When you have that type of length, you’re in the position to decide where your man can move on offense. Villanova’s defense was one of the best in the country last season because Bridges’ octopus arms was critical is cutting off the passing lane as well as disrupting around the rim.
Getting caught on a big man off a switch, Bridges stands his ground and uses his body and length to keep his man from creating any space. And with perfect timing, Bridges blocks a shot without initiating a foul. Like Frank Ntilikina, Mikal Bridges has the innate physical gift that can be further harnessed and mature him into being a nightmare matchup for every position:
As an elite defender, one of the tangible skills you must possess is controlled footwork. We saw this with Lance Thomas and Courtney Lee as they kept up with the league’s quick-footed guards with moderate success. Bridges can do the same. Not only is his footwork on defense is impressive, but it’ll become a valued skill as a help defender and on switches, too.
One of the Knicks’ weakest spots as a unit is defensive switches and fighting through screens. Frequently, we’ve seen guys get lost on switches and either commit silly fouls or give up a bucket. A key component to Villanova’s success these past few seasons has been that guys stay alert and active on defense. That frenetic style of play forces the offense to keep moving the ball. With the right matchup, it’ll lead to a turnover. Watching Bridges this season was like watching a master class on switching. Not only does he keep sights on his man but he seamlessly moves about the floor without slowing down on defense. He can close out very quickly as well.
Take a look at his footwork:
This season, Bridges logged 1.1 blocks and 1.5 steals per game. As a junior, he was fourth in the Big East Conference in blocked shots and fifth for steals per game. Bridges was the Big East’s co-Defensive Player of the Year only a season ago—a feat accomplished by not giving up on plays and annoying his opponents. Pairing him with Frank in the backcourt will make for long nights for all the other guards in the league, something in which Knicks fans would extract pleasure.
A Natural Athlete
Many teams value youth and raw talent. Personally, I value experience and crazy athleticism. With the Knicks being committed to a building strategy, Bridges brings a variety of ways to score. One of the most enticing aspects is how well he plays above the rim.
In other words, the boy got hops! Earlier this year, we wrote about how the Knicks need more athletes on the squad. When you look at young teams in the playoffs like Boston and Philly, their core is made of guys who are purely athletic. The Knicks need another guy who can run the floor and create those opportunities for fast-break points and easy dunks. Bridges checks both of those boxes.
Catching many alley-oops from Jalen Brunson and Ryan DiVincenzo has given Bridges a highlight reel that would make him an instant fan-favorite at the Garden:
We interrupt your regularly scheduled Knicks loss to bring you a Mikal Bridges YAAAAM pic.twitter.com/hbjNHmy7To
— Matt Spendley (@mattspendley) March 10, 2018
With KP likely sitting out the vast majority, if not all, of 2018–19, the Knicks will need another player who can score consistently. Bridges steadily improved on his ability and willingness to shoot from anywhere on the floor. He has a high release which will enable him to be able to shoot over longer 3’s like Jayson Tatum and Otto Porter Jr.
He can shoot in transition, but I think he’s more effective in the catch-and-shoot role. His shooting motion is smooth and he squares his feet. Great mechanics lead to high accuracy. Bridges was a career 40 percent shooter from long distance at ‘Nova and doubled his three-point attempts from sophomore to junior year.
Not only can he knock down the long ball, but he has a soft touch around the rim. The Knicks are going to have to catch up to the rest of the league in terms of three-point attempts. Finishing with a 51 percent overall shooting and 17.7 points per game, you can’t be mad at a player who can hit the little floater though.
GUYS MIKAL!!! pic.twitter.com/2CbmmSmASf
— Matt Spendley (@mattspendley) March 24, 2018
What is there not to like about Mikal Bridges?
One thing I noticed about Bridges is that he wasn’t a primary ball-handler at ‘Nova. The offense flowed through him but he sometimes struggled to create his own shot. That’s going to be a significant weakness at the next level. Related to his lack of ball-handling, it’s hard to tell if Bridges can actually pound the rock at all. His handle tends to be high and loose. In the NBA, that’ll lead to costly turnovers with teams wisely exploiting the weakness. If Bridge is going to efficiently play multiple positions, he’s going to have to get comfortable dribbling the ball and step up his handles particularly for isolation situations.
Coach Jay Wright had this to say of Bridges: “…[I]t’s given him a perspective on potential that most people don’t have.” Combing through Bridges’ film, it was tough to come up with a fair pro comparison. There are dimensions of his game that embodies a 3-and-D player. However, I honestly can see him as a worthy Frank clone at the 2 or leading the bench unit. Bridges’ defense combined with his scoring abilities reminds me of C.J. McCollum. With a coach like David Fizdale, at best, Mikal Bridges gives the Knicks continuity on the wing and turns into Otto Porter Jr.
Slated for the eighth or ninth pick this year, drafting Mikal Bridges is the first shot at true player development for this Knicks regime. Despite what’s said about older players going into the draft, 22-year-old Mikal still has room to grow. Fizdale is the right coach to help Bridges expand on what’s already there. If the Knicks are to stay on the path of good decisions, drafting Mikal Bridges is another thing crossed off the list.