Mikal Bridges' Case for All-Rookie Selection

by Cody Cunningham

The Phoenix Suns made a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers on draft night last summer to acquire the 10th overall pick, Mikal Bridges. The two-time National Champion from Villanova showcased his defensive tenacity and ability to stretch the floor all season long as he made quite the case to land on one of the NBA all-rookie teams.

The all-rookie teams are comprised of the ten best rookies, regardless of position, as voted by a global panel of 100 sportswriters and broadcasters. Not only did Bridges rank as arguably the best defensive rookie in his class, but also established himself as one of the top perimeter defenders in the entire league by going head-to-head against the best opposing player every night.

Bridges led all rookies with 1.57 steals and 2.7 deflections per game, while ranking 12th in steals and 20th in deflections across the NBA. He also finished second in the league with a steal-to-turnover ratio of 1.84, trailing only Houston’s P.J. Tucker (2.1). This also marks the second-best steal-to-turnover ratio by a rookie in NBA history behind Kawhi Leonard (1.93) in 2011.

Bridges recorded at least one steal in 20 straight games from Jan. 19 – March 6. It was the longest streak by an NBA rookie since Rookie of the Year Chris Paul in 2005-06 and the second-longest ever by a Suns rookie behind only First Team All-Rookie selection Ron Lee in 1976-77. His 129 total steals are also 2nd most by a Suns rookie trailing only Lee.

Bridges also showed off his offensive skillset, connecting on 105 three-pointers (the 7th most by a rookie this season). He joined Wesley Person, who was named to the NBA All-Rookie Team in 1995, as the only other Suns rookie with at least 105 three-pointers in franchise history.

Bridges' marksmanship coupled with his defensive instincts allowed him to become the first rookie in Suns history with 100-plus three-pointers and 100-plus steals this season. He is just the 11th rookie in league history to accomplish the feat, joining All-Rookie selections Stephen Curry, Brandon Jennings, Mario Chalmers, Kirk Hinrich, Shane Battier, Steve Francis, Kerry Kittles and Allen Iverson. The only rookie to reach this mark and not make an All-Rookie Team was five-time All-Star and 2004 Finals MVP Chauncey Billups.

Bridges ended the season with True Shooting Percentage of .556 and averaged 2.5 steals per 100 possessions. The only other rookies in NBA history (min. 2,000 minutes) to post a True Shooting Percentage of at least .550 and at least 2.5 per 100 possessions were Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, Andrei Kirilenko, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Allen Leavell (five of six earning All-Rookie selections).

Bridges posted numbers rarely seen by a rookie in terms of forcing steals on defense while shooting efficiently and taking care of the ball on offense. In fact, only two other rookies have ever had a similar profile to Bridges in these areas, and they were posted by two All-Rookie selections who would each become multi-time All-Star and All-Defensive selections in Kawhi Leonard and Eddie Jones.

While the 2018-19 rookie class was one of the most impressive groups in recent years, Bridges enjoyed one of the strongest rookie campaigns among his peers. Joining teammate Deandre Ayton, who averaged a double-double, both of the Suns top-10 selections are poised to receive All-Rookie honors in the coming weeks.

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