Saving your best for last usually translates to success. But in the case of Mikal Bridges, the Brooklyn Nets, and this past season’s All-Star Game, it all came together a bit too late.
When you put on a show, it’s imperative to start it at the right time. “Brooklyn Bridges” indeed put on quite the performance during the 2022-23 season’s latter half. After donning the black-and-white threads, his game evolved in a flash. He developed into a smooth, but rapid scorer. After pairing that with his pre-established defensive skills, the league and Nets fans embraced Bridges as Brooklyn’s next star.
All of you know this. Who am I kidding? It’s probably the only reason you still tuned into the team for the second half of the season! Averaging 26.2 points (27.1 if you exclude the four seconds played in the regular season finale,) 4.7 rebounds, and 1.1 steals per game while posting 48/34/90 shooting splits, Bridges not only kept the Nets afloat, but oftentimes shot them forward like a speedboat.
But again, the words “latter half” are the two most important ones in my second paragraph. The Phoenix Suns sent Bridges to the Nets while reeling in Kevin Durant at this year’s trade deadline. He then went ballistic, but the 2022-23 NBA Season’s All-Star voting had already taken place.
So by the All-Star Game’s standards at least, the show got started too late.
Ironically enough, Brooklyn entered those bizarre weeks leading up to All-Star weekend as the only team with two starters in Salt Lake City: Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. The Nets would later exit it as the first team in NBA history to deal away both of their All-Stars in the same season ... actually the same week. But that’s enough about those two.
Flash forward to present day, it’s another early offseason in Brooklyn. Bridges is getting some relaxation in. He’s turned his attention toward a different show, MLB the Show, and even looking for some new friends to play it with.
But other than this Damian Lillard recruitment campaign, there’s other reasons to look onward at the 2023-24 season with excitement. It will be the first 82-game slate that the Nets will fully feature the 26-year-old. That already has people buzzing about his All-Star chances in the next go-around.
Speaking with Mike Scotto of HoopsHype, several rival executives expressed a belief that Bridges could earn his first All-Star invitation during the 2022-23 season given his “current trajectory.” That’s likely in reference to the aforementioned “show” Bridges put post-trade deadline.
On the surface, if Bridges plays like he did during his first 14 games with the Nets, an All-Star bid feels well within the realm of possibility. Averaging 25+ points on highly efficient splits while also playing some of the defense in the league gets you in the conversation at the very least.
The topic of durability also bears importance. With the new CBA coming into effect soon, the NBA will require players to field at least 20 minutes in 65 or more games to achieve All-NBA and award honors. Although there’s no rule of that sort in the CBA which pertains to All-Star voting, the new should rule make durability more popular in the eyes of voters.. Of course, Bridges hasn’t missed a game since high school, so the new CBA restrictions promises to benefit him when fans, media and players fill out their ballots
That’s the meat of Bridges’s early All-Star rumblings, but there’s plenty more to bite into.
As we all know, each year a few players check all the boxes for an All-Star nod, but still fail to earn one. After all, only 24 players make the game each season. A few deserving players are bound to not make it each year due to the excess of talent in the league, often specifically at their position.
This year, a popular snub was Jalen Brunson. Leading up to the All-Star break, Brunson averaged 23.9 points, 6.2 assists, and 3.6 rebounds per game on 49/41/84 splits. Those numbers sit just a few ticks off of Bridges’ during his Brooklyn run; a few are even higher. With that said, how the Eastern Conference front court field does this coming season will be equally important to Bridges’ own campaign.
The NBA offseason is impossible to forecast, so I won’t even try to guess what front court players could or could not be in the East next year. But based off the league’s landscape today, I see 11 players rounding out the current competition for Bridges. The list and their stats from the following season go as follows:
- Giannis Antetokounmpo - 31.1 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 5.7 APG (.553/.275)
- Joel Embiid - 33.1 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 4.2 APG (.548/.330)
- Jayson Tatum - 30.1 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 4.6 APG (.466/.350)
- Bam Adebayo - 20.4 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 3.2 APG (.540/.083)
- Jimmy Butler - 22.9 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 5.3 APG (.539/.350)
- Pascal Siakam - 24.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 5.8 APG (.480/.324)
- Julius Randle - 25.1 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 4.1 APG (.459/.343)
- Kristaps Porzingis - 23.2 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 2.7 APG (.498/.385)
- Khris Middleton - 15.1 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 4.9 APG (.436/.315)
- Paolo Banchero - 20.0 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 3.7 APG (.427/.298)
- Evan Mobley - 16.2 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 2.8 APG (.554/.216)
Again, Bridges averaged 26.2 PPG, 4.7 RPG, and 2.4 APG on (49/34/90) shooting in Brooklyn this year, played every game and showed his two-way rep was and is justified.
Now, a few names above are in there just to humor the field. At this point, it feels unlikely that Banchero or Mobley will surpass Bridges in All-Star voting given their need for further development. But out of caution, you still want to consider them as hurdles Bridges needs to ascend in making his first All-Star Game. After all, Banchero earned the seventh most front court fan votes last season despite his understandable, but still prevalent inefficiencies. Mobley made the top-15 in that department as well.
Jumping back to the top though, it feels fair to assume Bridges will not challenge the likes of Antetokounmpo, Embiid, or Tatum for a starting spot in the 2023-24 All-Star Game. With all those players under the age of 30, they give you no reason to expect a stiff drop off in production this coming season.
Instead, that second tier of players including Adebayo, Butler, Siakam, and Randle seems like a fair target spot for Bridges to pinpoint. His numbers from last year stack up well against those four. His scoring output even exceeds them all — and if we’re being honest with ourselves — that’s the stat everyone looks at first when casting their ballots.
But at 60.7 percent, Bridges also established a higher true shooting mark than three of those four in Adebayo, Siakam, and Randle. With exception to perhaps Adebayo, Bridges remains a class above all those guys in the defensive department as well.
Like with the first tier, the age factor likely will not help Bridges here. Adebayo, Siakam, and Randle are all under the age of 30 as well, for the most part putting themselves on a similar trajectory of improvement as Bridges. Butler will turn 34 before the 2023-24 season starts, but has arguably played the best ball of his career over the past two weeks. You simply cannot bank on a drop off in production from him based on the postseason he’s having.
The fan vote factor could also put the squeeze on Bridges in tier two. Assuming he stays in Toronto this summer, Siakam will have a whole country in his corner come voting season. We know Knicks fans dwarf Nets fans to possibly give Randle a boost. The same goes for Miami in the case of Adebayo and Butler.
Fan voting is not the end all be all (thank God), but it does play a factor, making up 50% of the final point tally along with media members and player voting (25% each). Speaking of which, player voting on the contrary could balance things out.
In a poll taken at the end of the 2022-23 season, NBA players listed Bridges as the league’s third most underrated player. He trailed only Shai-Gilgeous Alexander and Jrue Holiday, who both became All-Stars this past season.
The NBA player community clearly thinks highly of Bridges and you can infer from these results that many of them believe he deserves more praise going forward. Now, that ideology might not pin Bridges as a lock for the All-Star Game, but it certainly points to him as a favorable option come voting time as players look to “give him his flowers.”
With that taken into consideration along with Bridges’s projected stats and his durability, this second tier of the projected All-Star pool looks like a ceiling for Bridges, but one well within his reach. It will certainly land him a role as a top reserve.
The third and final tier, including players like Kristaps Porzingis, Khris Middleton, Banchero and Mobley, could be something of a “safety area” for Bridges, that is still make the game should his production fall off or another forward in the East elevate theirs dramatically. Nobody saw Lauri Markkanen making the game last year. If another player comes out of nowhere to challenge Bridges for a spot, tier three will work as an insurance area for him to still make it.
Bridges averaged more points in Brooklyn than Porzingis, Middleton, Banchero, and Mobley did for all last year. Middleton’s numbers might looked skewed given injury woes last year, but seeing as he’s never averaged more than 20.9 points per game in a season, Bridges feels safely ahead him for a tier three All-Star spot even at his healthiest.
Bridges also put up a higher true shooting percentage than Middleton, Banchero, and Mobley. Even with respect to Mobley’s third place finish in DPOY voting, Bridges beats three out of four again as far as defensive prowess goes. I’ll remind you of his durability one more final time, That rounds out a pretty solid case for Bridges to etch out one of these final All-Star spots even if things go awry.
I’m sure I sound like a lawyer at this point, maybe even a prosecutor but all this evidence suggests that the executives foreseeing an All-Star selection for Bridges this year are right on the money. I haven’t even brought up the areas of growth Bridges could tap into as well, like becoming a secondary playmaker.
If you take another look at Bridges’ stats above in comparison to the field, the lone glaring negative for Bridges is his passing. In Brooklyn, he averaged 2.4 assists per game, a mark fewer than what every player in the field put up.
Let me be clear, I’m not saying Bridges should have learned how to dish while also figuring out how to became the No. 1 option in an offense. That would have been far too much to ask. However, it does resemble an area of improvement for him. Thankfully, Bridges knows this.
When asked this summer about areas of improvement a few weeks ago, Bridges mentioned “creating off the dribble and playmaking.”
Voters will likely not let assist numbers make or break a guy in the front court when voting them into the All-Star Game, but if you can move yourself out of last place (amongst the field) in any stat, doing so has to help your chances. The vocal intent by Bridges here to make that leap is certainly a good sign at this point in time.
With the Nets now preparing for a new season after a first round sweep and their three biggest rivals all still dancing in the postseason, this likely hasn’t been a fun past few weeks for Brooklyn fans. (The early struggles for both the New York Yankees and Mets make it worse if you’re a baseball fan too.)
But amid all that, this sunny forecast for Bridges should offer Nets fans a reason to smile and another reason to stay watching in the future.