It’s hard to forget that life came fast for Mikal Bridges at the start of his NBA career.
Drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers with the 10th overall selection in the 2018 NBA Draft, it seemed that Bridges didn’t need to move far as he was acquired by his hometown team. It was a perfect fit for the two-time NCAA champion, who spent his entire basketball career thus far in the state of Pennsylvania and had his mother close by who was also a member of the 76ers organization.
Unfortunately, Bridges learned how things can quickly change in the NBA.
As Bridges and his family were in the midst of celebrating, word came out that the former Villanova Wildcat was being traded to the Phoenix Suns for Zhaire Smith and the Miami Heat’s 2021 first-round pick (the pick eventually ended up with the Oklahoma City Thunder, who selected Tre Mann). It surely elicited mixed feelings from Bridges and his family, but the business side of professional basketball unfortunately does not appeal to emotions.
Being with the Suns, though, turned out to be a good thing for Bridges.
In almost five seasons in Phoenix, Bridges has been instrumental to the Suns’ two postseason runs (and an NBA Finals appearance), serving as one of the team’s defensive linchpins while raising his scoring average over the years. The 2022 NBA All-Defensive First Team selection was also a beacon of efficiency, not needing much to produce but always ready when called upon.
But alas, even when things are well and good, it can all change in a second.
One can’t blame Phoenix for making the trade since teams have to take the chance any time Kevin Durant is available. Unfortunately, the desire to win a championship now came at a steep price, one where the Suns mortgaged their future.
While Bridges won’t be a part of Phoenix’s plans, he has already made a mark in his brief time with the Nets. Brooklyn has gone 3-6 (but nonetheless remain in the playoff hunt at 36-28) with Bridges on the court and the 26-year old has come out of the gates on fire. In seven of those nine games, Bridges scored at least 21 points, with his new career-high of 45 points coming in a 116-105 win against the Miami Heat. The scoring is obviously welcome and comes given the large voids left by both Durant and Kyrie Irving, but how Bridges can remain efficient despite clearly being top option speaks volumes of the work he put in.
In the Nets’ 102-86 win over the Charlotte Hornets, Bridges could not miss, scoring 19 points on nine attempts in the first quarter alone. He would eventually miss a shot in the second half and finish with a game-high 33 points, helping build a huge margin towards the end of the opening quarter.
To say that Bridges was unleashed may be both a fair description and an understatement. Certain players have big games that put them on the map, giving rise to either a prosperous career or a cautionary tale as a one-hit wonder. For the 2018 Julius Erving Award winner, it has been a solid body of work in a short span of time. That the adjustment came midseason and for what others view now as a “rebuilding squad” certainly makes for a better story.
Production and impact aside, Brooklyn also has found an iron man in Bridges, whose 374 consecutive regular season games played is the longest active streak in the NBA. In fact, this dates back to his days at Villanova, where he played in all of the Wildcats’ 116 games from 2015 to 2018. In a basketball environment overshadowed by load management and numerous injuries, the Nets, who are no strangers to stars missing tons of games, must be over the moon knowing they have someone who will be there.
Change has been one constant in Mikal Bridges’ NBA career and it has manifested itself in more ways than one. Moving places and earning praises have been common for Bridges in the last few seasons, but this new opportunity with the Brooklyn Nets presents a chance to change the fortunes of a squad that just wants to show up and compete on a daily basis.