• Mikal Bridges may be one of the most underrated players in today's NBA
  • His effect on the court goes beyond the box score thanks to his versatility
  • Bridges is in prime contention to secure an NBA All-Defensive team selection

The NBA regular season is slowly drawing to a close, and it is becoming apparent that the Phoenix Suns are primed to finish at the top of the league.

While many attribute their success to Devin Booker and Chris Paul, lanky forward Mikal Bridges does not get enough love for his contributions to their success.

Drafted at 10th overall in 2018 by the Philadelphia 76ers, the Suns saw something special in the Villanova star and promptly offered a deal for him on draft night that featured Zhaire Smith and an unprotected 2021 first-round pick.

Bridges started off slow in Phoenix, but it was more of a coaching problem as head coach Igor Kokoskov was unable to make strides with the team and the entire coaching staff was fired in April 2019.

Bringing in Monty Williams as head coach for the 2019-20 season would turn the franchise’s fortunes around and in just two years, the team made the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993.

Bridges, alongside Booker and 2018 No.1 overall pick Deandre Ayton, benefited greatly from having a “player’s coach” like Williams as all three men blossomed into one of the league’s most potent trio.

Most players would gain hype from fans due to their scoring capabilities, but Bridges blossoming into a lockdown defender has turned him into a key piece of the Suns’ future.

However, defense rarely gets highlights and Bridges’ impact on the team was reduced to people reading into the box score.

Bridges’ main role with the Suns is to be a pesky defender on the wings that can defend anyone from the point guard position to smaller power forwards, making him a versatile piece that Williams can plug-and-play with any lineup.

Mikal Bridges, Deandre Ayton
Mikal Bridges and Deandre Ayton of the Phoenix Suns speak during a press conference at Talking Stick Resort Arena on June 22, 2018 in Phoenix, Arizona. Christian Petersen/Getty Images

His ball-handling skills are certainly great for an alleged catch-and-shoot threat from beyond the arc which allows him to cut through the defense thanks to his speed.

As mentioned earlier, Bridges shines bright on the defensive end thanks to his 7’1” wingspan that he uses to pester shooters, swat away shots, and interrupt passing lanes.

This is where Bridges’ true value lies as this opens up the Suns to go on scoring runs off the transition, which almost always puts away the game either in the third or fourth quarter.

His highest-scoring game happened last season where he erupted for 34 points in an away game victory over the Indiana Pacers and has never scored beyond 30 points ever again, with his second-highest scoring total being at 27 points.

When he is feeling it, Bridges can easily score 21, 22 points a game, but tallying points is not his main concern with the Suns and playing defense is a role that he certainly relishes in.

Against the Golden State Warriors on November 30, 2021, Bridges was able to hold Stephen Curry to just 12 points on 4-of-21 shooting, highlighted by a block that he had on the NBA’s all-time three-point leader.

Both him and Ayton played superbly in that game and their ability to switch on their defenders gives the Suns even more depth than they have had throughout the 2010s.

According to subscription-based stats site Cleaning the Glass, the Suns are giving up 3.9 less points to their opponents when Bridges is on the floor, which goes a long way in establishing their dominance on both ends of the floor.

Add in the fact that Bridges has been featured prominently in the Suns' now-iconic pre-game rituals.

During warmups plus his face becoming a meme both on social media, he brings a certain kind of energy that the team and its fans have grown to love.

Praising the 25-year-old this early into his career may seem like a reach, but there is a reason why he received a four-year, $90 million extension from the Suns front office.

Without a shadow of a doubt, Bridges has proven that his play goes beyond the box score and he may just be in prime position to secure his first-ever NBA All-Defensive team selection–an honor that eluded him last season.