Mikal Bridges

Sixers' draft pick curse is still alive and wreaking havoc

Sixers' draft pick curse is still alive and wreaking havoc

The Sixers' rookie curse of the 2010s is easing up, after years of debilitating injuries and oddball afflictions stretching from Nerlens Noel to Zhaire Smith — or, at least, it seemed to be. All of a sudden, Philly product Mikal Bridges, who the Sixers drafted in 2018 and immediately flipped to the Phoenix Suns for Smith, appears to be broken.

Just like Markelle Fultz before him, Bridges is struggling to find his game at the pro level, and recent videos of a weird, mid-shot hitch beg the question: did the Sixers' curse destroy Bridges' shot, too?

Take a look at this video and judge for yourself:

How in the world does a player end up with a shot like that?

Sure, coaches like to nudge young players' shooting forms towards more replicable motions. And sure, the ball is somehow going in the hoop. But that shot simply is not what you want to see from a professional basketball player. It basically looks like two, unrelated parts of a shot, squished together to create some Frankenstein form. It's definitely bad.

For reference, this is what Bridges' shot looked like when he played at Villanova:

Sure, Bridges had a "slightly unorthodox" shot in college, in that it wasn't perfectly center when he went up with the ball, but it worked in games. He shot 43.5 percent from three-point range his final year at Villanova on a whopping six attempts per game.

This season, his second year in the NBA, Bridges is shooting a paltry 29.7 percent from deep after shooting 33.5 percent as a rookie.

There's obviously an adjustment period, going from the college three-point line to the professional three, but Bridges is trending the wrong way, and now his shot looks like ... that. No one is safe.

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Sixers vs. Suns: Live stream, storylines, game time, more

Sixers vs. Suns: Live stream, storylines, game time, more

When the NBA calendar was released in August, opening night, Christmas Day, and matchups against top teams like the Warriors and Raptors headlined the Sixers' schedule.

Nov. 19, though, was a date worth circling.

On draft night back in June, ESPN’s Chauncey Billups compared No. 1 pick DeAndre Ayton, a skilled, athletic, 7-foot-1 center, to Joel Embiid.

Embiid was not a fan of that comparison.

He doubled down on his assessment of Ayton at media day in September, telling ESPN’s Rachel Nichols and Stephen Jackson that “[Ayton’s] about to get his a-- kicked this year.”

“He's going to be good," Embiid said.  “But when you talk about 'He looks like Joel Embiid,' I play on both sides of the court. I think I'm a good offensive player, good defensive player. I do it on both ends of the floor. I watched him play and he's got a lot of work to do. But he's got a lot of potential. He's going to be really good.”

Ayton has done his best to distance himself from Embiid’s trash talk.

“I don’t even indulge in those type of things,” Ayton said Sunday, per AZCentral.com’s Duane Rankin. “I just play. I just play every time.”

Ayton is averaging 16.3 points and 10.5 rebounds for the 3-12 Suns. Expect Embiid to attack him in the post early and often.

• Monday night is a homecoming for one of the Suns’ other rookies, Villanova product Mikal Bridges. For about 20 minutes, Bridges was a Sixer, after the team selected him with the No. 10 pick in this June’s draft. Then the Sixers traded him in exchange for No. 16 pick Zhaire Smith and the Heat’s unprotected 2021 first-round pick.

Smith is sidelined for the Sixers after a series of unfortunate events, including a Jones fracture in his left foot in August, an allergic reaction in September, and complications stemming from that reaction. He’s not expected to return to the court this calendar year, per a team source (see story)

Bridges, meanwhile, has had a solid start to his NBA career. He’s averaging 7.7 points, 1.6 rebounds and 1.3 steals and is the only Suns regular with a positive net rating (plus-3.6)

• Though Jimmy Butler is already fitting in quite nicely with his new team (hitting a game-winner tends to help with that process), he’s still learning the Sixers’ playbook, while Brett Brown is still determining how to best use Butler. On Saturday night in Charlotte, we saw more of the two-man game between Ben Simmons and Butler. Expect to see Brown add a couple more actions for those two, including some pick-and-roll looks with Simmons as the screener. 

• The Sixers are 8-0 at Wells Fargo Center. The Suns are 0-6 on the road. As has been the case the past three games, the Sixers should take a sizable lead in this one. This time, they should be able to hold it.

Below are the essentials for Friday’s game. 

When: 7 p.m. EST 
Where: Wells Fargo Center 
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia (Pregame Live starts at 6:30 p.m. EST)
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the MyTeams by NBC Sports app

Roster
Jonah Bolden, F, 6-10, 220, No. 43 
Jimmy Butler, F, 6-8, 236, No. 23 
Wilson Chandler, F, 6-9/225, No. 22 
Joel Embiid, C, 7-0/260, No. 21 
Markelle Fultz, G, 6-4/200, No. 20 
* Demetrius Jackson, G, 6-1/200, No. 11 
Amir Johnson, F/C, 6-9/240, No. 5 
Furkan Korkmaz, G/F, 6-7/185, No. 30 
T.J. McConnell, G, 6-2/190, No. 12 
* Shake Milton, G, 6-6/205, No. 18 
Mike Muscala, F/C, 6-11/240, No. 31 
JJ Redick, G 6-4/195, No. 17 13
Landry Shamet, G, 6-5/190, No. 23
Ben Simmons, G/F, 6-10/230, No. 25 
Zhaire Smith, G, 6-4/200, No. 8
Justin Patton, C, 6-11/229, No. 0

* Two-way player

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

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Value of Sixers' future 1st-round pick could diminish as abolishment of one-and-done hits snag

Value of Sixers' future 1st-round pick could diminish as abolishment of one-and-done hits snag

It’s still a tough memory for Brett Brown.

The Sixers’ decision to trade 2018 No. 10 overall selection and Villanova product, Mikal Bridges, to the Phoenix Suns for Zhaire Smith and Miami’s unprotected first-round pick in 2021 pulls on the coach’s heart strings to this day.

“That was a painful night,” Brown said prior to Saturday’s game against the Orlando Magic. “Ultimately, when I’ve got to walk out of that room and tell the city of Philadelphia that we traded Mikal Bridges, that wasn’t a pleasant night. 

“The things and the reasons that we did it to acquire and the the excitement that we had in Zhaire, those are good stories. But that fact doesn’t still sit well with me.”

Now that deal might hurt the Sixers even more down the road.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the NBA and NBPA are struggling to reach an agreement on lowering the league’s minimum age to 18, which would end the one-and-done draft era. While the major sticking points are reportedly turning over medical information to teams and participation in the pre-draft combine, it appears that Sixers-Suns swap has played a role in the negotiations.

“Phoenix traded the rights to Miami's unprotected 2021 first-round pick to Philadelphia in June, and the moving of that valued pick played some part in pushing back the proposed rule change to 2022, league sources said,” Wojnarowski said. “Those teams made decisions without the benefit of knowing the timetable on a change in the age limit. The first crop of high school seniors will be deeper in talent than those who come immediately before and after it.”

The Sixers were happy to nab Smith, who they deemed their “1B” player in the 2018 draft class, in the package. But the fact that the Miami selection was slated for 2021, when high school players were thought to be back in the draft mix, was also a significant factor.

“Then there’s a 2021 pick and we all understand that that could be the year that high school people are allowed into the NBA,” Brown said on draft night. “That is far out and it also could be the thing, as I said to Marshall (Harris), that could be the thing that flips it with us having more assets to enhance a realistic trade for a star.”

Any potential package in the future involving the 2021 first-round pick would certainly take a bit of a hit if high schoolers weren’t part of the available pool of players. 

But with the calendar currently set to 2018 and the Magic inside the Wells Fargo Center for a matchup, Brett Brown the former Sixers interim general manager was only set on his duties as Brett Brown the head coach.

“I haven’t thought about it the way you’d want me to give you a good answer,” Brown said. “I hear the ripple effects.”

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