Friday, September 22 2023
Mar 29, 2023; Brooklyn, New York, USA; Brooklyn Nets forward Mikal Bridges (1) celebrates after making a three point shot in the first quarter against the Houston Rockets at Barclays Center.

Mar 29, 2023; Brooklyn, New York, USA; Brooklyn Nets forward Mikal Bridges (1) celebrates after making a three point shot in the first quarter against the Houston Rockets at Barclays Center. / Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

After two blockbuster trades completely revamped the team, two months is all these Nets had to build chemistry in advance of facing a top contender in the first round of the playoffs. It’ll be a tough challenge on head coach Jacque Vaughn and the roster.

Perhaps the biggest weight falls on Mikal Bridges, the 26-year-old centerpiece of Brooklyn’s trade of Kevin Durant. Since becoming a Net he’s been their number one option, an entirely new role he’s excelled at in a limited sample.

Now he’ll get to test himself against a top-ten defense led by Joel Embiid and teeming with big defensive wings, an audition as Brooklyn’s key building block moving forward into this new era. Can he rise to the occasion and cement himself as a young star in this league?

Bridges sure has looked like one this season. Even before he joined the Nets, he saw a scoring bump in Phoenix partially due to injuries to the starters.

A career-high 17.2 points per game on 38.7 percent shooting from the field and increases in assists and free throws suggested Bridges was taking a step offensively. With the new workload in Brooklyn, he’s blown those numbers out of the water, putting up 27.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game on 53.1 percent shooting from two and 37.6 percent shooting from three.

We’ve only seen 27 games of this, many of which in the doldrums of the NBA season. Yet it looks completely real, and like it can be repeated against postseason competition.

Bridges had some of his biggest games against the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers, while his worst shooting stretch came to end the season against less impressive foes. While he’ll have the occasional stinker from the field, he’s largely been a consistent threat, not to mention constant defensive presence.

How has his scoring blossomed? In part thanks to becoming an elite mid-range weapon.

Bridges could always hit catch-and-shoot threes and dotted line floaters, but tasked with being the primary initiator, he’s had to develop more self-created scoring chances. He’s done so from the mid-range, shooting 47.5 percent on a bevy of shots that would make his predecessor proud.

He’s also built up his inside scoring, getting to the line three times more than he did last season per-36 minutes. From three, he’s grown comfortable shooting off the dribble, hitting 37.5 percent of his pull-up treys compared to 31 percent last year.

All this development on one side of the court, while he’s guarded the best opposing player on the other. Hopefully the 35.4 percent shooting in his last four outings of the regular season weren’t any lasting signs of fatigue.

Philly in a postseason environment will undoubtedly be a task, especially if the Nets aren’t having a strong shooting night and the 76ers can pressure Bridges without consequence. They’ll likely make him earn it first, and he should be able to capitalize.

Bridges is quick and shifty, good for busting up the zone Philadelphia threw at them last matchup and for carving up the slower wings like Tobias Harris and PJ Tucker. If Embiid is in a strong drop coverage, Bridges will have to rise and fire from 16 feet with confidence.

The playoffs are the second brightest stage in the sport, with Bridges having already shined on the first when his Phoenix Suns went to the Finals in 2021. He’s in a vastly different position this time, but will need to be equally ready for the moment.

This is his chance to signal to the Nets and the basketball world that they bet right when they bet on him to lead them through this new era.

Source: Yahoo Sports


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