Mikal Bridges Knows What it Takes to Win

If the Bulls could construct the perfect player for their roster, the bionic basketball player, perhaps he might look like Villanova’s Mikal Bridges, a so called NBA wing player, 6-7 with long arms, a wingspan exceeding seven feet, one of the best defenders in college who also was one of the top three-point shooters, a winner who played for two national championship teams with athletic ability and high character.

Bridges worked out for the Bulls Monday afternoon in the Advocate Center and he agreed.

“Just watching them and knowing what they probably need, it’s cool to be that type of guy who can shoot the ball and play defense,” Bridges said. “Defense is one of the biggest things in the NBA. I take a lot of pride in that and always will. I'm never gonna relax on the defensive end. This is one team that I feel like I fit perfectly in, just a lot of young guys, how they run transition, how they defend. So I feel like I fit perfectly. Take it day-by-day, just keep getting better every day, prepare for workouts and see what happens on June 21.”

Bridges could well be the Bulls default selection in that day’s NBA draft, but without apologies. Bridges, who turns 22 in August and has graduated, is the kind of versatile, athletic player often overlooked at the top of the draft but who makes a big impact.

Last year, it was Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell. In previous drafts, long armed wing players like Paul George and Kawhi Leonard fell out of the top seven. Just like Bridges’ favorite player, Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady, a 6-8 forward with a similar build who was drafted No. 9 to Toronto as a defensive specialist.

“My favorite player ever was Tracy McGrady,” Bridges acknowledged. “I tell myself every day by the end of my career, just try to be the best basketball player I can be. I'm going to work on everything and just people I see, high ceilings like Paul George and Kwahi Leonard, how they weren't guys coming in phenoms like LeBron coming in and dominating. They worked their way up and seeing how they got better every year, I see myself doing that, (like) I got better every year in college. Try to be the best player I can be by the end of my time.”

The Bulls had in for workouts two centers, Mohamed Bamba and Wendell Carter Jr., before Bridges. Both Bamba and Carter are generally rated slightly higher than Bridges for potential NBA impact, though it’s hardly a scientific measurement. Numerous players selected outside the top five often emerge as the best players in the draft, like Mitchell last year, the Bulls Lauri Markkanen and the small forward Bridges mentioned, Leonard selected 15th.

Plus, it might be that all the centers and top big men are selected before the Bulls draft.

The general consensus is the top three in the draft in some order will be DeAndre Ayton of Arizona, Luka Doncic from Europe and Marvin Bagley from Duke. Then it’s supposed to be Jaren Jackson Jr. from Michigan State and Texas’ Bamba. The Orlando Magic select No. 6 and most expect them to pick a point guard, like Trae Young or Collin Sexton. But they could go for the higher rated center, Carter Jr.

So then what would the Bulls do?

They have a point guard selected No. 5 in the 2016 draft in Kris Dunn. They like developing former lottery pick Cameron Payne as a backup.

Would they take a chance on the high scoring Young, regarded as a poor defender and barely over six foot, but with magnificent shooting and passing potential? Or the mystery man of the draft, Missouri small forward Michael Porter Jr. He had back surgery and missed most of the season, but he came to the Draft Combine, which Bridges skipped, and measured almost 6-11 with shoes as a good shooting small forward with athletic moves. His wingspan also was more that seven feet. Will his back hold up? What about rumors he didn’t play that nice with the other kids?

Perhaps Bridges doesn’t have as much potential as players like Young and Porter, though he’s more can’t miss, playing multiple roles with a successful collegiate program, a willing defender and transition scorer who commits first to team play and sacrifice.

“I play well in transition,” Bridges reiterated. “(Able to) play anybody one through four, transition threes in offense, catch and shoot, doing whatever I have to do. I always work out a lot. I feel like I'm always ready. Whatever they want me to do, I'll do anything for the team. All I care about is winning. Don't really care about single accolades. I could care less. Main thing for me is trying to win a championship.

“You're not gonna know what it takes to win unless you've done it,” Bridges said. “I know what it takes; you sacrifice a lot for it. Having that winning mentality, having somebody (come) in that knows how to win and will sacrifice to win a championship. I'm prepared for that and I'm always ready. I play hard and gritty, that aggressiveness; it's that Villanova culture. That's what Coach (Jay) Wright got me to be, that type of person, be that dawg and killer on the court and when the ball hits the floor, whoever I'm going against, always think I'm going to be better than that person, always outwork that person and just having that mentality.

“Just going to go into these workouts and do my things,” said Bridges. “Try to dominate. On the court, I'm really serious. Off the court, I'm just a really good guy. That's something I want to show them. I was well raised and I'm a really good person.”

Cross off that Bridges when they come to it?

Is he a Bridges who is too far down in the talent ratings? Is Bridges a reach?

Or he is just the right guy for the Bulls to reach for and grasp tightly?