You won’t find Mikal Bridges in the top 5 of any NBA mock draft. Despite an All-American season in which he averaged 17.7 points and was the second best player on a 36-win Villanova team, Bridges is left out of the conversation when names like Deandre Ayton, Luka Doncic and Marvin Bagley are mentioned. Bridges was the most efficient player on the most efficient offense in the country and might actually be a better defender than he is a shooter. And yet, one still has to specify which “Bridges” he or she is talking about when discussing the top wings in this draft class.
It’s because Bridges is – are you sitting down? – all of 21 years old and will be – take a deep breath before continuing – 22 years old on his rookie Opening Night. Bridges played three seasons at Villanova but that redshirted as a freshman, so he’ll enter the June 21 draft nearly three years older than Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson. He’s even a week older than current Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell, who spent two seasons at Louisville.
Forget age. It’s true there are players with more potential and upside than Bridges simply because they’re 19 years old and their skill sets have not yet been honed in. Players like Ayton, Bagley and Jackson are getting by on athleticism and skill, and when an NBA team molds them their ceilings will rise. Pardon the cliches, but it's true. But Bridges has already been molded. Teams know what he’ll be. And that is a sharpshooter, a lengthy, smart defender and someone who could become the biggest steal of the 2018 NBA Draft.
This is how good Bridges was in 2018: His 1.217 points per possession ranked in the 99th percentile nationally. He was the only player in the top 50 with at least 500 possessions used (576). That made Bridges the most efficient high-usage player in the country, and he did so on the second most efficient offense of the last decade. True, Bridges was bound to look good in that well-oiled machine of a Villanova offense, but he – along with Jalen Brunson – was the reason it hummed as it did each night.
It shouldn’t be surprising – if you watched any Villanova – that Bridges’ hottest play type came on spot-up shooting. His 1.337 points per possession ranked in the 98th percentile, thanks in large part to his 43.5% 3-point field goal percentage on 239 attempts. He’s the absolute sharpest shooter in the class, with Ray Allen-like form and a quick release. His worst area from beyond the arc was on the right wing at a paltry 39.7%. Let that sink in. He was 19 of 37 (51.3%) from the corners, 46.3% from the top of the key and 42.4% from the left wing. He was unstoppable everywhere.
That he’s able to attack off the dribble only complements his shooting further and contributed to his All-American campaign. Bridges even showed off some sneaky smoothness in pick-and-roll scenarios, ranking in the 90th percentile with 60 points on 61 possessions (0.984). His isolation numbers even ranked in the 74th percentile, but with just a 27-possession sample size it’s tough to say whether he’ll be able to create on his own. He may not have to giving his shooting acumen. He has the athleticism to finish, averaging 1.433 PPP around the rim (93rd percentile) and averaging 3.4 free throws per game. He shot 63.3% around the rim. Pick a statistic, any statistic: Bridges is an elite offensive player.
Bridges will step into an NBA offense and be a No. 3 scorer. His ceiling is higher than that but he’s Day 1-ready. He has clear NBA 3-point range, is comfortable handling the ball in pick-and-roll action and does so efficiently, having shot .514/.435/.851. Three players in the country reached those shooting thresholds, and Bridges had a higher usage than both. He’s an offensive juggernaut.
So here's where it really gets good: Bridges projects as a plus defender. He wasn't measured at the Combine but based on reports we'll put Bridges at 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan. He has a thinner frame built more in the mold of a Klay Thompson and less a Robert Covington, but there's room to grow there. It's hard to picture him guarding any small-ball 4s, but he'll be incredibly versatile defending both wing positions.
In his final year with the Wildcats, Bridges ranked in the 91st percentile defensively. He was a terror in pick-and-roll action, allowing 0.59 PPP (84th percentile) and had an impressive 3.5% block rate for someone who played the vast majority of his minutes on the perimeter. He was one of two players in the country to average 2.5 3-pointers, 1 block and 1 steal per game, and one of five players to amass 60 steals and 40 blocks (Bridges had 61 and 43, respectively).
His length allowed him to close out well on shooters, too. While it's tough to determine a player's worth defending jump shots - so much depends on, well, whether the player they're guarding is a good shooter - Bridges ranked in the 86th percentile defending jump shots, and the 90th percentile closing out on spot-up jumpers. Again, Villanova had a swarming defense full of length, strength and smart players. But Bridges ranking near the top of the country speaks volumes.
We mentioned Thompson earlier, and we'll do so again. Bridges has a chance to be a special role player the same way Thompson has been in Golden State. No, we don't expect Bridges to average 2.9 3-pointers on 42.2% shooting from deep in his first seven NBA seasons. But Thompson can be that key cog in an offense, someone who can get hot in an instant and turn a three-point deficit into a seven-point lead in the matter of minutes. He won't facilitate an offense but has the ability to play off the dribble and in pick-and-roll action. And, like Thompson, he's an underrated defender because of how good he is as a shooter.
There's obvious risk in taking a four-year college player in the top-7. The last taken were Buddy Hield, Kris Dunn, Damian Lillard, Wesley Johnson, Epke Udoh, Shelden Williams and Brandon Roy. A mixed bag of results, and not much can be drawn from it. But so, too, is the draft.
The Bulls, you may have heard, need shooters. In part because they dealt Nikola Mirotic at the trade deadline, in part because they didn't have shooters, the Bulls ranked 21st in 3-point percentage despite making the 10th most triples and attempting the sixth most. Fred Hoiberg has a plan, and he's beginning to see it through as better shooters cycle through. Adding Bridges to that group would do wonders for Hoiberg's offense on the wing.
He fills a need, too, which at this point is an added bonus. As impressive as David Nwaba was, and the sneaky-good season Denzel Valentine put together, the Bulls are desperate for help on the wing. Tony Snell and Doug McDermott were first-round failures and the Bulls haven't been able to find a suitable replacement. Bridges can be that player.