Mikal Bridges may not be up for an NBA Sixth Man of the Year award this season because he’s on the periphery of mention compared to the competition.
The Phoenix Suns forward most likely won’t show up as a candidate for that honor in the following years because it’s become clear his team needs him in the starting lineup.
Bridges is averaging a shrug-worthy 8.7 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game in his second season, but he’s resumed the year with two eye-popping Orlando bubble scrimmages that show his ascent remains far from plateauing.
ESPN’s Zach Lowe already saw enough to give the Suns wing some love in his running series of 2019-20 awards. Lowe mentioned Bridges under his long list of Sixth Man of the Year candidates via a written story and his podcast.
“(Bridges is) not going to light anyone’s world on fire,” Lowe said. “Sometimes he’s just like, does he even want to shoot? Does he know that he can shoot and that points are good and points will help him earn money?
“He like dipped his toe into looking at the basket this year, long as all hell on defense, can guard everybody, smart cutter … Looks like a prototypical three-and-D guy with a little bit of feel for how to cut, a little bit of catch-and-go. Phoenix has a positive scoring margin with him on the floor.”
Bridges is showing quite a bit more aggression through two scrimmages amid the NBA restart in Orlando. He scored 16 points to go with five rebounds and three blocks against the Boston Celtics on Sunday during a loss. His 13 shots were second-most on the Suns.
Last Thursday, Bridges scored 14 points on just nine attempts in the opening scrimmage facing the Utah Jazz.
He’s doing that while continuing to grow as one of the best NBA wing defenders. Against Boston’s Jayson Tatum, one of the NBA best up-and-coming scorers, Bridges was a problem chasing the 22-year-old across screens to bother jumpers and staying in front of the smooth scorer in isolation situations.
Bridges has started just 24 of 65 games in 2019-20, but Phoenix’s best analytical lineup includes him starting next to Kelly Oubre Jr. at the forward positions.
Regardless of Oubre’s health and availability when the eight-game finale to the regular season starts, it would be surprising if Bridges isn’t part of the starting unit. He’s always been viewed as the perfect complement to young franchise cornerstones Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, a floor spacer who can stop the best opposing offensive players while keeping the ball moving if a shot isn’t there.
“That (role) just helps you win if you have guys who can be centerpieces,” Lowe said. “He’s on my love list.”
Watching Bridges’ last two scrimmages, it look like the team’s most improved player during a coronavirus-caused break in the season.
Don’t expect he’ll end up as a candidate for Sixth Man of the Year in 2020-21. Most improved might be more likely.