When Bobby Marks did his post-mortem on the Nets — and talked about where they’re headed, he said this about Mikal Bridges.
“No closers on this team,” the former Nets GM turned “ESPN insider”said. “My apologies to Mikal Bridges. He’s probably the third best player on a top four team. I mean that’s the reality of it. He had a great year. He’s not a No. 1. I think he’s probably a No. 1 on a bad team. Probably a No. 2 on a team that’s a fifth seed, fourth seed. He’s not the No. 1 if you’re trying to win a championship. And no one asked him to be.”
That seems to conflict what another Marks (no relation), current Nets GM Sean Marks, said around the same time when asked last Sunday, “How do you view Mikal as a No. 1 player on team or do you need to get another No. 1 option?”
“Regarding Mikal, I think he’s proven to a lot of people that his role can continue to get better and better and bigger and bigger so I think I would be pretty silly to be up here and limit him and say he cannot be something,” said Sean Marks.
“Really for a few of our guys so I think that a few people have had their eyes open to what he can do. But now that when the ball’s in his hands in those key crucial moments of games, can he step up? Can he be that guy that we can rely on in big moments? I think we saw it a little bit in Phoenix when Devin Booker was out, he carried a considerable load for them. And then we saw this year where he came in and immediately was a crowd favorite. You could get behind him. It’s just the way he played, how he played and he didn’t shy away from those moments either. So I would definitely not limit him and say he could only be this for us.”
The GM didn’t exactly answer the second part of the question — whether he feels a need to get another No. 1, but he made it clear that at this point, Mikal Bridges is his No. 1 and he has confidence that the 26-year-old can grow further. After all, the first words out of Adrian Wojnarowski’s mouth after announcing the Kevin Durant trade on February 9, were that the Suns initially did not want to include the 6’6” Bridges in the deal, “but that wasn’t happening.” The Nets, he said, had “long coveted” Bridges.
Bridges justified Sean Marks faith in him. Over the 27 games after the trade, Bridges upped his scoring from 17.2 a game in Phoenix to 26.1 or 27.2 over 26, if you discount the four-second cameo in the meaningless regular-season finale. He did appear to tire near the end of the regular season and in the playoffs, his efficiency dropping in each of the four losses to Philly.
Still, his final shooting splits in the regular season — 48/38/89 — left little to be desired. And he led the league in three categories: games: (83), minutes (2,963) and miles traveled on the court (224) while finishing fourth in the Most Improved Player balloting. He had a dozen games of 30 or more points, three times topping 40.
Moreover, his teammates see him as something special. Cam Johnson, his self-described “twin” in Phoenix, told the media last Sunday that Bridges transformation from No. 3 with the Suns to No. 1 in Brooklyn was not something that just happened.
“People, I don’t think they fully realize that what he was able to do in his time here wasn’t just he woke up one morning and was better than he was before,” said Johnson.
“One, he was very effective in Phoenix. But two, there were hours and hours and hours of offseason work on every shot you saw him shoot, every move you saw him make. We were working on those moves all summer for multiple summers. That growth does come in the offseason...
“I think Mikal’s a prime example of someone who’s ready to take advantage of that opportunity, and I’m super proud of him.”
As Brian Lewis reports Saturday, “privately, Jacque Vaughn and members of the Nets front office have acknowledged playmaking and using his newfound gravity to punish double-teams will be the next steps in Bridges’ development into an All-Star.” But Lewis also wrote the plan is more about supplementing not replacing Bridges who seems ready for whatever role the Nets have for him.
“It’s just continuing to get better and work on things,” Bridges said. “…The thing about me is I’m just always trying to get better every year. I mean, that’s the biggest thing, and trying to be the best player I can be when it’s all said and done. There’s always room to grow, and this summer just learning things and adding more things to that routine.”
He also admitted he’s still a work-in-progress, looking to add new wrinkles to his game, which also includes top-flight defense.
“Maybe try some things I never tried,” he said of off-season plans. “Which probably will help, which I always kind of do each offseason just add a little thing that’s just kind of new.”
Growth at age 26 doesn’t seem like that much of a challenge, considering where he’s already been. Indeed, one thing seems certain: that the Nets are willing to let it happen on their watch, not another team’s. They turned down an offer of first round picks by the Grizzlies at the deadline and everything that Sean Marks said to the media indicates he’s not interested in moving Bridges.
So, as the off-season turns into the pre-season, then the regular season, fans along with everyone else who follows the Nets internally and externally will be trying to determine which Marks — Bobby or Sean — had the best take on Bridges.
- What’s next for Mikal Bridges in the project of rebuilding the Nets - Brian Lewis - New York Post Sports+