Mikal Bridges has been labeled a “Three-and-D” player because he can hit three-pointers and play defense. But his college coach said Bridges can do so much more, and his versatility and selflessness would make him a Madison Square Garden favorite.
The Knicks have Bridges on their radar with the No. 9 pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft. The 6-7 Villanova junior certainly fits their need for an athletic wing player who can defend.
Don’t stop there, though, Villanova coach Jay Wright said.
“He’s complete as a player and as a person,” Wright said during a phone interview on Monday. “Off the court, he’s really high character, he’s intelligent, he’s a leader. On the court he’s complete as a player. He defends really well and takes pride in his defense. He’s a great rebounder from the guard position, offensively and defensively. He shoots the ball well, is good in pick-and-roll and has got great basketball IQ.”
What about the “Three-and-D” label?
“That’s a bad word in our program,” Wright said. “We want our guys to be complete. That refers to the fact that you’re a three-point shooter and good defensive player. We want him to be a three-point shooter, good defensive player, great passer, great rebounder, play pick-and-roll, be able to do everything, which I think he can.”
With the ninth pick, the Knicks are targeting a forward to someday play with Kristaps Porzingis, who is rehabbing from a torn ACL. Bridges, Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr., Duke’s Wendall Carter Jr. and Kentucky’s Kevin Knox are candidates. But it’s possible Porter and Carter could be gone by nine.
The Knicks have done extensive research on many prospects, particularly Bridges, who averaged 17.7 points and converted 43.5 percent of his three-pointers as a junior.
Wright said he has spoken to president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry multiple times, and Knicks vice president of basketball operations Jamie Matthews spent a day on the Villanova campus talking to people about Bridges, who is from a suburb of Philadelphia.
“They’ve done as much homework as anybody,” said Wright, the former Hofstra coach. “They know everything. They can do a better interview than me.”
Knox is an interesting prospect. He’s 6-10 and has a high ceiling. He’s only 18 so teams may need to be patient. Bridges is 21, played on two national championship teams at Villanova and is considered the more NBA-ready player. He might be able to slide in and get minutes, especially with his ability to defend — a major Knicks weakness for many years.
Wright said Bridges guarded all five positions for Villanova. Wright believes Bridges will be able to effectively guard all positions other than center in the NBA and will take on the challenge of facing the best.
“He loves to win in a kind of old-school way,” Wright said. “He’s not as interested in his own individual numbers. He’ll do whatever they need him to do. If they tell him, ‘Give Porzingis the ball,’ he’ll do it. If they tell him, ‘We’re putting you on LeBron [James], guard LeBron,’ he’ll do it. He really enjoys that.”
The Knicks, who have missed the playoffs the past five seasons, are rebuilding. Wright believes because of Bridges’ maturity and mentality, he is built to handle anything — including the pressures of playing in New York.
“That’s really valuable,” Wright said. “He’s been through a lot of big-time games. He’s been patient with his development as a player here. I think he’ll be patient with whatever situation he’s put into in the NBA. He understands earning everything you get. He’s not going to expect to be given anything. He’s got that old soul. And he does have that experience.
“A lot of that sort of limelight and everything’s not going to be new to him. He’s gotten a lot of attention here. It’ll be a gradual next step for him. I think he’ll handle it very well.”