As if it wasn’t bad enough watching the Sixers crash out in the second round of the playoffs, at home, to the Atlanta Hawks, there’s a former Philly draft pick and Villanova kid three games away from a ring.
Playing for the Suns…. after the Sixers moved him on draft night…. for a project player and a first round draft pick.
It’s hard to avoid the Mikal Bridges story. It was all over Twitter during Game 1 of the NBA Finals last night, and Kyle constantly brings it up in our Slack channel. I don’t blame him, honestly, because he’s been calling for the Sixers to take Villanova players for years now, and moving Bridges on draft night probably turned out to be a mistake, depending on how you feel about that draft pick.
Last night in Phoenix, Bridges played his 3 and D role very well. He only shot 5-14 from the field, but hit two of his four three pointers and a couple of free throws to finish with 14 points and a +14 number. He grabbed a rebound, logged an assist, and claimed one steal while spending the bulk of his floor time defending Khris Middleton.
Bridges’ numbers have been consistent throughout the postseason. He’s averaging 11 points, four rebounds, and two assists while shooting 36% from three. He’s 16-18 from the line and has 17 steals. He’s a prototypical glue guy and utility knife defender on a team that has star power in the back court and a capable big in the front court.
— NBA (@NBA) July 7, 2021
In order to properly re-litigate the trade, we have to first go back to the 2018 draft and examine what the Sixers were. This was a young team coming off a second-round playoff exit and returning a starting unit of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, JJ Redick, and Robert Covington (plus Markelle Fultz). In truth, Covington was a more experienced Bridges at the time, and if the Sixers were going to take another 3 and D player, then Bridges would have been relegated to the bench during his rookie year. In Phoenix, Bridges started 56 games in his first season and that wouldn’t have been the case here.
Ultimately, Covington was moved in the Jimmy Butler trade and they played Jimmy at the three, used Wilson Chandler at the four in the interim, and kept Redick, Embiid, and Simmons in their roles. So, whether the Sixers did the Butler trade or not, Bridges probably would have spent a rookie season in Philly on the bench.
Going into the draft that summer, the Sixers did not have a general manager running the show in the post-Burnergate era. They decided to take Bridges with the 10th overall pick and flip him to the Suns for their selection and Miami’s 2021 first rounder. They got Zhaire Smith at number 16, eventually using the extra pick in the Tobias Harris trade and later giving him a five-year deal worth $180 million dollars.
We can’t judge the Bridges deal in a vacuum, and instead need to look at the entirety of the Clippers/Sixers transaction, which went like this:
- Sixers received: Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, Mike Scott
- Clippers received: Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, Landry Shamet, Sixers’ 2020 first rounder (ended up being #19 overall), Miami’s 1st rounder (from the Bridges trade, which ended up being the 18th pick in this coming draft), and two second rounders
And here’s where we hit a snag, because when you ask if the Sixers gave up too much in this trade, the answers are always going to be subjective and arbitrary. Did they need to include the 1st rounder from the Bridges trade? My personal take was that the Sixers gave up one item too many, be it one of their draft picks, or Shamet. They probably could have gotten this deal done for slightly less, but it didn’t happen that way. They were making a move to win right now and decided to “go for it.” Plus, if Bridges was on the team, Los Angeles could have asked for him instead of Shamet, and maybe he would have been expendable.
We don’t know, and that’s the difficulty of the Mikal Bridges re-litigation. Of course he was a good player out of college, but he was hovering right around the top 10 and he played a position that, at the time, everybody felt like the Sixers had addressed with Covington. Eventually they went out and got Matisse Thybulle to be the next 3 and D guy, after Butler wound up in Miami.
In hindsight, the real crime is that the Sixers (and plenty of other teams), missed on Shai-Gilgeous Alexander, who went right after Bridges, at #11 overall. Michael Porter Jr. also came off the board between Bridges and Smith, but had injury concerns that made him a risky selection. Another thing that hurts is that Lonnie Walker, Kevin Huerter, and Donte DiVincenzo all went off the board immediately after Zhaire Smith, and the Sixers would have been better off with any of those three guys (while still ending up with the extra pick).
In conclusion, all of the Bridges opinions are inextricably connected to Tobias Harris. You can make the argument that the Sixers overpaid in the Tobi trade, but moving Bridges was one of the catalysts that made bringing Harris here a possibility. In hindsight, simply keeping Bridges would have been the slam dunk move, but nobody back then thought he’d become a starter on a NBA Finals team.