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Nets Head Coach Offers Surprising Critique of Fan Favorite

Brooklyn Nets wings Mikal Bridges, Cam Thomas, and Cameron Johnson

Brooklyn Nets fan favorite Mikal Bridges, now in his sixth NBA season, was the league’s most notable breakout player in 2022-23. Now, he has received notable critique.

Averaging 26.1 points per game after the Nets acquired him from the Phoenix Suns, Bridges showed himself to be a deadeye shooter in the midrange. In fact, Bridges played so well that he escaped from a box labeling him as a 3-and-D role player. However, in spite of last season’s heroics, the 27-year-old is “just not Superman,” according to interim head coach Kevin Ollie.

Mikal Bridges Is ‘Just Not Superman’ for Nets

“You know it hurts when you don’t have [Cam Thomas] or [Cameron Johnson] where they’re double-teaming [him], and you expect him to be Superman. But he’s just not Superman,” Ollie says, per the New York Post’s Brian Lewis.

Acknowledging the wall that Bridges has hit in his first full season as Brooklyn’s No. 1 option, the former UConn head coach says that “all the game plan is to [stop] him, to take him out of the game.”

Ollie’s words may seem a bit harsh. However, Bridges has failed to meet sizable expectations. Averaging 20.9 points per game, so it’s not as if he’s been unproductive. Nonetheless, his scoring average is tainted by uncharacteristic inefficiency, as Bridges is posting his lowest true shooting percentage (56.1) since his rookie season (55.6).

Consequently, what can be said of the Bridges is that he’s been unreliable as the top option.

To be frank, he’s likely always been suited for a secondary or tertiary scoring role. His shot-creation is negatively impacted by average ball-handling ability and the lack of explosive first step. His shot-making has been impacted by opponents making him the focal point of their defensive game plan.

Ollie isn’t out on Bridges though. In fact, he believes the Villanova product “can learn through this.”

”Even through struggle, you have an opportunity to find a lesson in it…,” Ollie says. “When he gets in this situation again, he’ll be better equipped.”

A Candid Admission

The eight-month, 82-game regular season is long and grueling. This season, the arduous NBA schedule and his new role have led to issues in how he balances his energy between offense and defense. Even Ollie believes fatigue could be a factor in Bridges’ recent slump.

Since the All-Star Break, Bridges has managed just 16.2 points per game with a 48.3 true shooting percentage. His energy is down. His deference is up. However, Bridges believes his recent play is the result of the coverages he’s seeing, not his being tired.

“No, it’s just between missing shots and schemes on other teams. It’s just a mix of that,” Bridges says. “It’s not too many times where I come off and it’s easy looks now.”

Mirroring Ollie’s words, Bridges says “It’s just part of growth… [it’s] gonna make me better [and] make the team better when it’s all said and done.”

“Even games where I shot bad, they all felt good,” he continues, with an air of confidence. “And that’s probably the worst part when you make every shot in warm-ups and then come into the game and miss every one. So that’s not fun. But [my] body feels good.”

Kawhi Leonard-Esque Rise

After being traded to the Nets, Bridges made a star turn reminiscent of Kawhi Leonard.

Leonard, the 15th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, began his illustrious career as a defensive specialist for the San Antonio Spurs. He progressively took on a heavier offensive load —the Spurs’ core no longer in their prime —before becoming a bonafide go-to scorer in his first All-Star season. Leonard never looked back, and when he’s healthy, he looks like the league’s best two-way player.

In Bridges’ case, he became an archetypal 3-and-D role player for Phoenix after being drafted 10th overall in the 2018 NBA Draft.

He also saw a steady rise in his scoring opportunities, culminating in what was then a career-high 17.2 points per game midway through the 2022-23 season. Headlining the trade package that the Nets received for Kevin Durant, Bridges had gigantic shoes to fill. After all, their entire Big 3 had been dissolved within a calendar year.

All Bridges did to prove his worth was raise his scoring average by nearly 10 points.

What’s His Best Role?

There’s not enough evidence that Bridges is suited to be the No. 1 option.

Even if there was, like Leonard, he may be better suited as a 1A. To that end, Thomas’ evolution as a volume scorer has all but transformed him into that already. Yet, even Thomas isn’t ideally suited to be the team’s leading scorer. This offseason, the Nets would be wise to find a player that can be their top dog.

Maybe that’s Donovan Mitchell. Perhaps it’s even Trae Young. Both stars could be available for trade this summer and their arrival could usher in a prosperous era for the Nets. But frankly, as long as the ball makes it in the rim more often, it may not matter who Brooklyn gets.


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