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Mikal Bridges: 2019-20 Fantasy Basketball Sleeper

Welcome to October.

NBA season is encroaching and drafts are looming. I wanted to key in on one of my sleeper candidates for the upcoming season.

There might be a load of biases heaped onto this as I had him on my fantasy roster last year, but let me try to convince you why Mikal Bridges should be drafted higher than currently projected. 

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Fantasy Sleeper Profile: Mikal Bridges

First, let me lay out my definition of a sleeper. I’m not looking at any consensus top 50 players because you’re only going to be able to nab two or three of those guys anyway. When looking at rankings, I do look at a couple fantasy draft rankings, but I primarily look at Yahoo’s rankings in order to capitalize on the potential differences. Face it, you’re not going to be flipping through tabs and tabs of rankings when you’re finally on the clock. You’re most likely looking at the rankings on your draft engine. Lastly, sleepers, to me, mean they have sneaky value and upside: a player that has a window of opportunity for more playing time or more responsibility on the court. I’m uninterested in more veteran players that are a known commodity (sorry to anybody excited for DeAndre Jordan or something)

Here’s the case for Mikal Bridges, who is ranked around #100 across many draft boards. First, Bridges is a category specialist. He defends well and slotted in seamlessly as a spot-up shooter in his rookie season. He took 48.8% of his shots as catch and shoot threes and the other majority (36.6%) of his shots as two point field goals within ten feet of the basket. He did what was asked of him and did not demand much offensively, which is what the Suns needed. To this point, Bridges was able to average 29.5 minutes per game, playing in all 82 games in his rookie season. This is consistency that fantasy players love to see! 

Second is the change in Phoenix’s roster. They kept their main pieces in Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, and Kelly Oubre. They added reliable, skilled players in Ricky Rubio, Aron Baynes, and Dario Saric, as well as retaining Tyler Johnson. This bodes well for Bridges because, while Phoenix has a more sensible game plan, they still lack wings depth and defensive players. Bridges should be slated to start at the small forward position and he should often be playing in tandem with Saric or Oubre. The thought of the wing defense from the combination of Oubre and Saric is not appealing. Other than possibly Baynes, Bridges has the highest defensive upside out of anybody of the roster. Phoenix will lean heavily on his defensive growth. The hope is that the game will slow down for Bridges, and he will be able to add to his fantasy value that already has three-point and steal upside, and add a favorable blocks upside as well. 

The main value that I lean on is the growth of players from their rookie to sophomore season. Let’s first look at the growth in win shares for the first round picks from the class of 2017. 

The data points here are sized by average minutes played, and one can see that the trend is that most players will increase in contribution during their sophomore season (excluding if they had a fantastic rookie season - Hello Jayson Tatum) [Green represents rookie season and blue represents sophomore season]

I believe that the big burst onto the scene typically happens during the sophomore season, if we look a season prior at the three-year growth of the 2016 rookie class. The trend is that during a player’s third season, they tend to taper off and hit a plateaued win share. [Yellow: Rookie, Green: Sophomore, Blue: Third Year]. But that data does show insight on some of the young players in the league that have burst onto the scene. 

As the 10th pick in the 2018 draft, Mikal Bridges has great potential upside given his situation going into the 2019-2020 season. He also has a strong partnership with the focal point of Phoenix, Devin Booker. Last season, 19.5% of his passes were made to Booker, and, on the other end, 16% of the passes Bridges received were from Booker. As the young players continue to grow together in a symbiotic relationship, this creates a situation in which Bridges could be elevated in the points and assists category as well. If you find yourself in the 7th or 8th round, unexcited about the prospects Yahoo or ESPN is lining up for you, think about Mikal Bridges or some of his other 2018 draft classmates. 

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