This post is an attempt to demonstrate that Mikal Bridges can dribble. That simple.
To do that, I’m going to show embed some youtube clips of Villanova highlights, showing you examples of Mikal Bridges dribbling in both half court and transition situations and more than that, making plays, often at the rim, but sometimes with the pass. Beyond that, since the clips are quite long, give you the time stamp of when the event in question happens, after I describe it.
I’m sorry I’m not better at mainpulating video and thus writing these types of piece. It’s one reason I’m loathe to write them. Plus I think there’s value in approaching the questions of the NBA draft writing from a stats first and historical standpoint, since most draft writing either comes from a scouting perspective, or attempts to combine the two, often by finding stats and video evidence that support each other.
Those approaches give one kind of answer, and this approach gives another, often dissenting. And that dissent is important, since it can lead us to understand the events in question from new perspectives, and thus deepen (or at least widen) our comprehension.
The Comments In Question
Even being loathe to write such pieces, when a ridiculous opinion is spouted off multiple times in a week by a well respected draftnik, that contradicts both what I’ve seen and what the numbers say, I don’t feel bad about pointing it out.
For one, such opinions have a way of becoming part of the prevailing narrative of a player.
For two, these comments, below, actually offend my sensibilities as they are so willfully misleading.
Dean makes some very astute observations. He calls to attention many deserving prospects. And he’s very often right. Or on the track to being right.
However, when you base an opinion on a number, and the opinion in question here is clearly based almost exclusively by looking at the number 14.7 (as in Mikal Bridges’ Usage Rate is only 14.7%), be open about it. Don’t willfully make it seem like you watched the player a shit load and have an opinion based on keen observation, when it should be relatively clear to anyone who has indeed watched that you haven’t.
It’s fine to be skeptical because 14.7% is a low number. Even if I think it doesn’t consider Mikal Bridges’ Team Context, nor his high-efficiency and low turnover rate. (Bridges would still be a good prospect with an extra field goal attempt and turnover a game. Not as good, but then his Usage Rate would be a more satisfying 18-19%.)
The NBA Draft is a very hard game. I don’t know anyone who is right all the time. And ultimately, it’s much easier to trust the opinions of someone who admits when they don’t know the answers and ask for evidence that might contradict their beliefs. Disagreement should be encouraged, largely because it leads to conversation.
But that disagreement has to be reasonable and based somewhat in the reality of each particular situation. Saying Mikal Bridges is “a zero on offense” is just bullshit. And unfortunately, it makes it much harder to take his other ideas seriously. Like when he questions Mikal Bridges as a defensive prospect, I’d be likely to take his opinion into consideration.
Except for this fact, I know it’s not based on any meaningful observation. And if this opinion is based on defensive statistics, I’m not sure exactly which statistics are being looked at. But if I could see the work, I might know if his observation should better inform my own.
A Look Into This Observation About College Role Players
In some ways, it’s a shame, as Dean has, among others, interesting ideas about Andrew Jones, which do seem rooted in observation. And I certainly agree with his observation about Bryant Crawford, that he’s another underrated sophomore. Beyond that, I don’t know enough about Hutchinson to have an opinion of any kind. Besides that he has a profile worth watching. Plus, there’s an interesting take on Malik Monk, the conclusion of which I may come around to agree with in time (I like to be relatively open, especially with younger players, until we have more data), even if I think some of the reasoning therein is suspect.
(Malik Monk really isn’t anything like Reggie Miller, in style of play or in effect, especially considering that Reggie Miller’s value was not just based on elite jump shooting in terms of volume and efficiency, but also in large part predicated on his ability to get to the free throw line at an elite rate while basically just shooting jump shots. That’s a skill we aren’t likely to see again, since the NBA has instituted rules because of the way Reggie Miller used to manipulate referees. Though there indeed may be more value in Monk’s game than many would believe, for the simple fact that Dean points out, because Monk is really athletic. As of now, I even think it’s possible he plays some defense down the line.)
As for his idea about college role players, it’s largely true. Most college role players never become anything in the NBA. Some of that is because the NBA has been loathe to give such players a chance. A lot of that is due to many of these players simply not being all that talented.
However, the important thing to note is that this observation is almost certainly not true for ALL college role players. Especially for those who are college role players as Freshmen and Sophomores on teams as deep as Villanova.
Let’s look once again at the table I made for my previous Bridges piece.
Shane Battier, Jimmy Butler stand out obviously as especially low usage sophomores. Both arguably go on to become top 20 NBA players at different points in their careers. But let’s also notice that where Kyle Lowry, Andre Iguodola and Danny Green exceed Bridges in Usage, it’s mainly because of turnovers, and in the case of Iguodola and Danny Green, ill-advised shots.
Even seeing that, let’s pretend Jimmy Butler, Shane Battier and Danny Green never existed. And let’s acknowledge that it’s highly possible Lowry and Iguodola were different types of prospects. That both were not only quick, but had enough dribbling acumen to get into the heart of the defense. Perhaps that’s why they had higher usage rates than Bridges. That is to say, let’s deal with the Otto Porter, Jr. comparison on its own merits.
Otto Porter, Jr. and Robert Covington
Dean is right. Otto Porter, Jr.’s Usage Rate of 24.4% is much higher than that of Bridges. So too Robert Covington’s 27.1% and 28.1% Usage Rates as a junior and senior, the years for which we have hoop-math data. (I’ve picked Covington for reasons that will be explained in the next section.)
However, those numbers are very misleading for one simple reason you’ll understand in about two paragraphs.
Here are Otto Porter Jr.’s sophomore year scoring stats, via hoop-math.com.
Otto Porter, Jr. Sophomore Year Percentages.
Otto Porter, Jr. Sophomore Year Totals.
Now here are Robert Covington’s Junior and Senior seasons, respectively.
Robert Covington. Junior Year Percentages.
Robert Covington. Junior Year Totals.
Robert Covington. Senior Year Percentages.
Robert Covington. Senior Year Totals.
Do you notice anything in common? First, that almost none of these players offense is self-generated. Just looking at shots at the rim. Otto Porter, Jr. scored only 48.3% of his shots at the rim unassisted. Robert Covington was at 44.3% and 54.7%. These are very low percentages. (These players have equally mediocre unassisted numbers from mid-range and three, if strong field goal percentages, but I’m not going to spend all night doing this. Getting to the rim is perhaps the best indicator, scoring wise, of being able to do something off the dribble.)
But let’s look at the totals. Perhaps the supposition that dribbling ability is the difference between Otto Porter, Jr. and Mikal Bridges is correct. And yet we see out of 29 unassisted shots at the rim, Otto Porter, Jr. scored 22 of them on putbacks. And we see a similar story for Robert Covington. Out of 47 unassisted makes at the rim as a junior, a full 40 of them were putbacks. Out of 29 unassisted makes as a senior, 27 putbacks.
Now you see. We’re playing a shell game. We’re not actually talking about dribbling ability at all. We’re talking about offensive rebounding. And we’re talking about we’re talking about Team Context, and we’re talking about pecking order.
If you added the equivalent of Porter, Jr.’s 41 putback attempts to Bridges’ totals (or 1.3 a game) you suddenly have a Usage Rate approaching normal. Let alone Robert Covington’s 1.7 or 1.8 putback attempts a game as a junior or senior.
To contrast, Mikal Bridges already has 21 unassisted makes at the rim, and only one putback attempt. A shot he made. Giving him already 20 unassisted makes at the rim in the half court and in transition. Compared to just 7 for Porter, Jr. and just 9 total in just over one and half seasons for Covington. (Covington got injured his senior year.) I think it’s very possible I’m going to show you more unassisted makes in the highlights of a few games from Bridges than each of these players had in their best seasons.
But What If Bridges Really Can’t Dribble?
Well, of course that’s something of a problem. It greatly limits his value going forward. Though we of course have or had players in the NBA like Danny Green, Shane Battier, Bruce Bowen, Otto Porter, Jr. and Robert Covington. Players who would be wise to limit their dribbling.
And I will say that Dean is right. Otto Porter, Jr., though the numbers don’t suggest that the ability directly lead to many shots of consequence, did possess some dribbling ability in college.
The thing is Robert Covington did not. And to this day, he really can’t do anything off the dribble. Nor would I trust him to make decisions in the half court. Oh, and he’s also a substandard ball mover. And yet, at least when he’s hitting 3-pointers and finishing possessions, still a pretty darn good NBA basketball player. If he regained even a 35% or 36% stroke from deep, I can think of several contenders that would most likely be better off with Covington in their rotations than they are now. In fact, just about every one of them.
Which may or may not pertain to Mikal Bridges. Since,
Mikal Bridges Can Dribble
There’s a profound difference between not succeeding because you are not capable of success and not succeeding because you are not given an opportunity. In the first scenario, you lack an ability. In the second scenario, you very well may have that ability, but no one gets to see it. At least not on a regular basis.
We have no idea how good Bridges could be were he in a different Team Context, or how good his numbers would look if he cared less about winning and being part of a team. All that we know is that he plays the role assigned to him by his coach, since he is surrounded by talented college players. (Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Jalen Brunson, just to name those who have taken more shots than him.) And that he plays it well.
But nevertheless I’ll now show some evidence of Mikal Bridges dribbling, flashing athleticism, finishing, passing, and being an all around non-zero on offense.
Villanova vs. Marquette. January 13, 2016.
I believe there were actually at least two drives in which Bridges finished at the rim in this game. One normal basket, and an And-One. Though I could be wrong about that. In this clip we only see the basket, which comes in the half court off a pass from Arcidiacono. At 1:40 in the clip[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vvo8pLBlJqI&w=560&h=315]
This is a simple move for someone with Mikal Bridges quickness, height and length. And he makes it look easy. Catch not quite at the top of the key. Just to the left with no one on him. And then one hard dribble which takes Bridges towards the center of the foul line.
The shift in camera angle makes it difficult to see, but this next step Bridges takes is very impressive, even vs. a mediocre defense like Marquette. As it allow Bridges not only to cut into the open space between four converging defenders but to slightly switch his momentum back allowing an easier finish on left side of the rim. As Henry Ellenson was closing from the deep right.
Just keep that in mind. This is an offensive player not only closing this 15 feet between him and the basket after he’s picked up dribble. And not just that, but he’s planting in such a way to allow his jump to push him back to area of the court where the basket will be easiest.
Now remember Stanley Johnson’s troubles scoring at the rim when he was at Arizona. Remember how rarely he even tried to get the ball on the square. This is exactly the kind of finesse he lacked in his game. (Though his floater was pretty solid.) And thus we got a lot of misses. That’s not something we worry about with Bridges, at least at this level.
Villanova vs. Miami. March 24, 2016.
Mikal Bridges with the steal. Transition opportunity. Defense into offense.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xw1m9-SqCrM&w=560&h=315]
There’s several impressive things about this clip. The steal first of all. Which is mostly length and a little timing. But the steal is actually two different actions. It’s a tip followed by a catch, and Mikal Bridges is fluid enough an athlete to do it all in one motion. It looks effortless.
If you made that same tip in a game of any kind, trust me, the catch would not be so effortless. On its own, it’s not a big deal, but it does suggest something intuitive, not just being able to track the ball, but about looseness of his body, which I believe allows Bridges to play so live.
However, it’s also not the only impressive thing about the clip. For one, there’s the dribble. Bridges covers 22-25 feet on a single dribble while a defender is on him, starting his take off just a step in from the free throw line, and he has the length to make the finish at the rim look easy.
But it’s not just that, the gather of the ball is also impressive, turning his shoulders just slightly, not enough to disrupt his movement towards the opposite side of the rim. But enough to completely secure the ball from the defender. It’s a little fundamental thing. The type of thing almost all sound, fundamental players would do in this situation. And yet the fact that Bridges does it should not be overlooked.
There’s any number of ways we see players make mistakes even on simple plays like this. (Ignoring that this play would not be so simple were Bridges 6’2″ instead of 6’7″ with extraordinary long arms.) Any number of players just go up strong, or go straight at the rim, not trying to use the glass, or take off from too far away. I’ve seen Bridges finish a number of times at the rim in such situations. He’s solid. Short of Lebron or Tashaun Prince or someone like that doing something spectacular, you’re getting a basket or a foul or a pass to a teammate for a lay-up. Which is to say, with Bridges, you probably don’t have to worry about a botched lay-up attempt going for a fast break the other way.
Villanova vs. Purdue. November 14, 2016.
Halfcourt drive. 42 seconds into the clip.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBC-fRT16Z0&w=560&h=315]
You can’t see exactly what happens, since the highlight starts late. But it’s another one dribble drive, this time past a hopeless Purdue defender. (Dakota Matthias I believe.) With an easy left-handed finish around a hopelessly floorbound Caleb Swanigan. (He’s much improved, he’s still not a rim protector.)
So now we see a trend. Three drives. Three dribbles. Three left hand finishes. In case you didn’t know, Bridges happens to be a right-handed shooter.
Now as for not drives in this highlight: At 1:21 in this clip, you can also see a fundamental fast break run by Josh Hart to Bridges back to Hart. I can’t tell you how often we see this play botched and how maddening it is. That is shortly followed up by a catch and shoot three by Bridges.
Purdue’s Points and wings were also a combined 10-32 from the field that game. That’s not offense. But it’s not wholly by accident either.
Villanova vs. Wake Forest. November 18, 2016.
At 1:39 there’s a sequence that begins with Bridges guarding the 6’3″ Keyshawn Woods, where his length forces a turnover, just because Woods feels pressured and can’t see/find an angle to make a pass. This begins a fastbreak after a Josh Hart steal.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKRwwwydMMI&w=560&h=315]
Here we see Hart outlet the ball to Bridges at a little behind where the NBA line would be on the right side of the court. He takes one dribble which carries him to about the free throw line, stops suddenly, takes a hard dribble inside which not only takes him to the center of the court but sheds the man who is retreating to intercept him. Then an easy lay-up. This time with his right.
Then at 3:27, we see a half court drive through traffic. This one is especially good. Dribble hand-off from Brunson on the left side of the court, two or three feet behind the three-point line. An ideal place for a right-handed player to receive the ball, since a dribble with the right hand can take the player to the center of the court while the body shield the defender from the ball.
And that’s the first movement Bridges makes, not towards a danger area, but a dribble towards the top of the key. Except, when Bridges sees that his defender has overplayed him, he makes a sharp dribble back to his left that allows him to cut 70-80 degrees towards the heart of the defense. One more dribble with his left, that looks a little sloppy, but is also perfectly placed to allow Bridges to gather and finish (again with his left) with finesse against the glass.
4:25. Holy shit, another drive to the basket. This one even has more than three dribbles. Catch at the three-point line on the left side of the court. Sees a mismatch. Then he starts with a dribble left, crossover back right. Nothing special. Not enough to win, but Bridges continues his drive to the center of the court where he just is too fast for an outmatched defender. Finishes after he dribbles almost to the other side of the basket and cuts back to the hoop. Right hand.
This is like a college version of Tony Wroten drive where he’s just too fast for his defender, but he has no move besides his speed to win. I’m pretty sure this drive would be shut down by NBA defenders. But he does keep his dribble alive for four dribbles. And there’s never any danger of a turnover.
Not Drives: At 1:14, Bridges shoots a catch and shoot three. Short. But directly on-line. You’ll notice the rebound pops basically up and back towards Bridges before Eric Paschall tip dunks it.
At 2:45. Easy catch and shoot three from the corner.
At 3:02. Bridges cuts to the corner. Catches. Makes a three. This shot is a little awkward, as Bridges clearly has to gather himself before shooting. This despite the pass being an ideal location for a right-handed shooter. (I always liked catching the ball slightly to my left at least, especially off that kind of movement out to the three-point line. It’s very natural then to pull the ball into the shooting pocket as your settling before raising up again.) But he’s patient enough to drill the shot as a man is closing onto him. He’s clearly not all the way there yet. But that’s a far way from being an absolute zero.
At 3:45. Bridges catch and shoot three. Nothing special here. Though Bridges does show the presence of mind to slightly move shuffle to his left when he realizes he’s going to be open, not only presenting an easier target for Brunson to hit, but allowing him to step into the shot in rhythm. This shot is a lot smoother than the one that comes before it. But the type of movement into the shot is a little bit less complicated.
At 4:08. Easy ball movement swing, passing up an open three for a better one, since it was Hart he passed the ball to. You know in the Brogdon piece when I was alluded to how ball movement and secondary passing may be at some level related to team defense. It’s precisely plays like this one I’m talking about. The team that plays together stays together.
At 4:17. Typical Vince Carter back door lob for a dunk. (UNC ran actions similar to this all the time.) Bridges isn’t as explosive as Vince Carter but we see this type of play not infrequently for Bridges.
5:22 or thereabouts. Bridges catches the ball in the post. Waits, Makes a great skip pass on time and on the money to DiVicenzo who is moving into the corner. Easy three.
Villanova Vs. St. Joe’s. December 3, 2016.
At 1:14. Then replayed immediately afterwards with a much more impressive angle. It’s not a drive. Just a touch to a dribble, to one of the smoothest passes to a trailer you’ll see, at least in college basketball. This is not only unselfish basketball, it’s court awareness. And then he sets a moving screen (which doesn’t connect) immediately after to impede his own man from properly closing out.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cRurMZfXZd8&w=560&h=315]
At 2:15. Here we see Bridges get completely cut off on a drive from the top of the key, after DiVicenzo’s man bites down and ties him up. Not a particularly impressive drive, and very possibly a turnover if a similar play happens at the next level. In the NCAA, Bridges has enough strength to free the ball and find a somehow wide open Kris Jenkins. Kris Jenkins is going to shoot it if he catches it and is remotely open. And he’s a really good shooter. Cover him.
At 4:25. Rips Jalen Brunson’s man on help. Dribbles from the opposite foul line to the rim. Turns the hips of the St. Joe’s defender whose tracking back twice, first by cutting from the right to the center of the court. Then by picking up his dribble at the college three-point line, pivoting back towards the center of the court and finishing with a lay-up on the left side of the rim. Yes, Bridges again cover 19 or 20 feet after he’s stopped dribbling. Which may be one of the best features of his drives towards the rim. He very often stops incredibly far away from the basket allowing him to cover huge amounts of ground faster, and indeed, he always gets to where he’s going.
Not Drives: 0:04. Mikal Bridges catch and shoot three.
0:15. An easy pass to a trailing Daryl Reynolds vs. a defense that’s still getting set that sets up the play, which ends with a tip dunk by Hart. Bridges doesn’t do anything special here, except not hold onto the ball and notice the obvious progression. And yet oftentimes, that’s all it takes for winning basketball to take place.
3:58. Bridges moves into an open space. Receives a pass from Hart. Catch and shoot three.
Villanova Vs. Lasalle. December 6, 2016.
At 0:14. Back door cut. Receives pass. One dribble. Cut off by double. Finds open Reynolds inside for dunk. Uses his length to slot the bounce pass. This play should have been smoother, but Reynolds recognizes a little late what’s happening. And doesn’t cut until the double team is all the way there, whereas if he cuts a moment sooner you have an avenue for either an in rhythm pocket pass or an oop over the top. Who knows if the play would have been executed. But this was effective nonetheless. This is kind of how Scot Pollard used to run his cuts toward the rim when he was with the Kings getting passes from the low to the mid-post.. Almost like a delayed hand off. It looks a half beat or a full beat late, but if the pass gets there the rim is wide open.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gbMLuNp30bc&w=560&h=315]
At 7:20. Bridges has enough awareness to help off his man on D and ends up getting beat for a bucket, and then video cuts forward to a quick one dribble drive off a pass from Hart in which Bridges finishes over a defender.
At 16:24. Broken play. Bridges dribbles out to the three-point line after being cut off on his initial move to the basket. Realizes no one is covering him and then attacks the basket once again, gets to the rim after a dribble and a semi-Europe step cutting back to the left side of the basket. Hoop and harm.
Not Drives: At 0:28. We see Bridges, in what has become a typical defensive play for the Wildcats, carrying the opposing team’s point guard to around mid court before tracking back and recovering to his own man. There really aren’t many 6’7″ college guards you would want to even attempt this.
At 1:10. The Red Sox acquire Chris Sale for Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech and two other prospects.
At 2:49. Basic Catch and shoot three from left corner.
At 18:00. Broken play. Steps into a catch and shoot three.
Villanova vs. Temple. December 13,2016.
Not a drive but at 2:10 an excellent touchpass on a fastbreak from Mikal Bridges to Eric Paschall. This one is impressive.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qgNi27WDQkY&w=560&h=315]
At 6:10. Soft two dribble drive to the short post. Spin to a bank shot from six to eight feet off the glass. Good touch. Though if you watch earlier you’ll see more of the play develop, which Bridges is involved in. He gets cut off by a double team on a drive at one point, and is able to reset the play, rather than merely forcing a shot. (Which apparently would make him a better player.)
At 15:20. Bridges notices a mismatch. Takes two dribbles with his right driving his man towards the baseline and nearly under the hoop. Then spins back, scoring the hoop and getting the foul.
Not Drive: At 11:15. Solid pass off an inbound to a wide open Hart for an alley oop. Good touch and placement. On time.
Villanova vs. American. December 21, 2016.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d8iqCEkrUxs&w=560&h=315]
At 0:06. Holy Shit, Mikal Bridges drives to pass. Josh Hart three.
At 0:55. Mikal Bridges drives for a dunk. I mean American is a cupcake, so we aren’t learning much. But this one at least comes off a screen on action starting a couple of feet behind the three-point line. Though American is so overmatched, Mikal Bridges turns the corner and just blows by everyone including the roll man, who turns to look for a pass and then realizes he’s already behind the play. (This is, at the very least, a unique way to run PnR you don’t see very often.)
Just the games from this year. And just these highlights. What do we see. At least seven or eight half court drives for unassisted baskets. Which is to say, more in a few highlight tapes spanning a third of the season than Otto Porter, Jr. had in his entire sophomore year.
We also see other drives that end with assists. Multiple transition hoops. Lots of other positive stuff on offense. And we already know there’s not a lot of negatives (so far) to go along with it.
Beyond that, we see the occasional suddenness or change of direction ability that might portend to greater things ahead should Bridges continue to improve. And if he doesn’t, we see a player who should likely be able to attack a closeout, under control, with either the ability to finish (with either hand), and to possibly find an open man or an avenue for a makable shot if he gets cut off in that 5-8 feet range.
Though Bridges most impressive skill right now might be his ability to cover huge swaths of ground and manipulate defenders after he’s picked up his dribble.
There’s no guarantees with draft prospects. The shot might go to shit over night, or it might not translate at all, which will put Bridges scoring game against the wall, unless he improves a lot off the dribble. That’s always something of a long-shot at this stage of a player’s career (unless he’s really good at setting up and carving the angle on screens, which is something we don’t really get to see in college for a variety of reasons) but it does happen. And regardless, Bridges is definitely far from a zero on offense. Not only in college, but as regards his NBA potential.
I obviously also think he’s way more than average defensive prospect, because of his frame, his athleticism, his willingness to play for his team, his awareness (most of the time), his effort. I could be wrong about that, or indeed everything regarding the prospect. I’ve been wrong before. I’ll be wrong again. And if anyone has lots of dissenting evidence, based on something besides the fact that Mikal Bridges doesn’t rebound the offensive glass as well as Otto Porter, Jr., I’d love to hear it.
It’s probably not an accident that Bridges has won nearly every game he’s played in on a college court. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be a good NBA player. But Bridges has a number of other factors in his favor as well.
*Data from hoop-math.com and sports-reference.com.