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Philadelphia transplant Mikal Bridges helping Suns after shocking draft-night trade

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Mikal Bridges lived near Philadelphia his whole life. He was born there. He grew up there. He played collegiately at nearby Villanova. He even got drafted this year by the 76ers, the organization his mom worked for!

But while he was explaining his joy about joining the 76ers, they were trading him to the Suns.

It was a stunning development – one the 76ers insisted even they didn’t foresee when they picked Bridges No. 10. The Suns just made too good of an offer – the No. 16 pick (Zhaire Smith) and an unprotected 2021 Heat first-rounder. Everyone watching sympathized with Bridges having his storybook career derailed.

Yet, Bridges insists he wasn’t bothered.

“It was good to be home. It would have been good,” Bridges said. “But I wasn’t mad about not being home, either. So, it was the same thing.”

Even now, Bridges struggles to pinpoint differences between living near home in Philadelphia and living across the country in Phoenix.

“Just the weather, I guess,” Bridges said.

Bridges has shown tremendous ability to roll with the punches. That’s why he’s one of the NBA’s top rookies.

“We love his poise,” Suns coach Igor Kokoskov said. “And we call him, he’s a ‘vet-rookie.'”

Bridges has moved into Phoenix’s starting lineup. He’s averaging 7.1 points and a rookie-high 1.4 steals (minimum: two games) per game.

He also leads rookies in real plus-minus. Here’s the leaderboard (minimum: 10 games):

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Bridges isn’t the best rookie. That’d be Jaren Jackson or Luka Doncic or Deandre Ayton. But Bridges handles his limited role well. The 6-foot-7 forward defends versatilely, knocks down open 3-pointers, attacks closeouts and doesn’t try to do too much.

He’s exactly the type of 3-and-D wing Philadelphia could use.

But Bridges tries not to dwell on that. It helps he didn’t grow up a 76ers fan, instead rooting for whatever team had Tracy McGrady.

He can’t completely escape the difference between Philadelphia and Phoenix, though. The 76ers are 14-8 while the Suns are an NBA-worst 4-16. Bridges’ worst record at Villanova was 33-5 – and the Wildcats one the NCAA championship that year, one of two Bridges helped them win. He said he never played for a losing team growing up, either.

“The real you comes out when you start losing, when it’s a tough situation,” Bridges said.

This isn’t the first time Bridges’ composure has shined amid difficulty. Because he was so thin, he redshirted his first year at Villanova. Instead of playing, he spent days working out. He called it “one of the toughest years of my life.”

“I was in pain throughout the whole year,” Bridges said.

That early setback also seemed to signal Bridges would never make the NBA. Nearly anyone who becomes good for the NBA is good enough to play early in college. Just 12 active NBA players redshirted (excluding due to transfer, academics or medical): Bridges, Kent Bazemore, Garrett Temple, Dewayne Dedmon, Jerian Grant, David Nwaba, Hamidou Diallo, D.J. Wilson, Justin Patton, Ron Baker, Johnathan Motley and George King.

Bridges turned pro after his redshirt junior year, letting that saved season of eligibility go to waste. But he says redshirting was still the right call for him, as he developed a stronger work ethic that year.

The 210-pound Bridges still hasn’t grown into the NBA’s strongest or most athletic player. But, even after his difficult experience acclimating to college basketball, Bridges wasn’t worried about a bumpy entrance to the NBA.

“There’s always transition every step you go to. You’ve just got to get used to it,” Bridges said. “I adjust pretty quick.”

Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday will play reduced minutes rest of season

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The Anthony Davis Saga with the New Orleans Pelicans has been one of the oddest, most missed managed trade request in recent NBA history. And that’s including whatever happened with Kawhi Leonard last season with the San Antonio Spurs.

Davis made himself one of the focal points of NBA All-Star Weekend in Charlotte after leaving at halftime of the final Pelicans game before the break. Davis has issued several statements since then, including a bit of a meltdown at Saturday practice availability in North Carolina.

Of course it’s just a matter of time before Davis plays for another team, but we will have to wait until summer for that to happen. In the meantime, both sides are at sort of an impasse with Davis clearly not wanting to play in New Orleans anymore. The Pelicans, naturally, don’t want their asset to become injured and therefore reduced in value.

But Davis is going to play, and according to the team and interim general manager Danny Ferry, both Davis and Jrue Holiday‘s minutes will be reduced from here on out.

Via Twitter:

This makes sense sort of no matter what. New Orleans is no longer a playoff bubble team, and so a reduction in minutes for their top stars this season makes sense anyway.

Hopefully we don’t have to hear much about this moving forward. If we can get through the rest of the year without dealing with more weird Anthony Davis talk, I think we will be better for it.

Meanwhile, let the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks try to gather up their best offers to snake him away from the Los Angeles Lakers. No doubt something crazy will happen this summer with Davis just given how it’s already gone so far.

Paul George says he talked to Nike about his shoes after Zion Williamson injury (VIDEO)

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The basketball community lost its collective mind on Wednesday night when Duke Blue Devils star Zion Williamson was injured after blowing out a pair of Nike basketball shoes in a rivalry game against the University of North Carolina.

Williamson’s injury was such that shares of Nike actually fell come Thursday. Meanwhile, the debate about whether Williamson should continue to play for free in the NCAA raged on all day.

Of course Williamson was wearing Paul George‘s signature shoe when he experienced the blowout, which apparently prompted the Oklahoma City Thunder star to contact Nike about it.

Via Twitter:

George’s shoes are very popular across basketball, and he told reporters that this had never happened to his knowledge.

I do wonder if players will be more reticent to wear one of the more popular shoes in the NBA. Then again, Williamson is a freak of nature in of himself so it’s not likely that the forces created by his power would be exerted by a normal player in the league.

Zion Williamson’s sprained knee became bad day for Nike

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When presumptive No. 1 pick Zion Williamson went to the ground, his knee twisting, early in Duke’s game against North Carolina Wednesday night, the basketball world collectively gasped.

Former President Barack Obama was there and quickly recognized the problem:

It did, unquestionably. The  6-foot-7, 284 pound Williamson was wearing the  PG 2.5 PEs (the Paul George signature line of Nikes), and when he made a hard cut the shoe gave out and Williamson went to the ground in a heap. The television cameras closed in on the busted Nike.

That’s not good press.

Fortunately, Williams suffered only a mild, Grade 1 knee sprain, and is day-to-day.

Nike released a statement to multiple media outlets that said, “We are obviously concerned and want to wish Zion a speedy recovery. The quality and performance of our products are of utmost importance. While this is an isolated occurrence, we are working to identify the issue.”

Nike stock dropped one percent on Thursday, although that level of fluctuation is not serious.

Bottom line, if this remains an isolated incident, Nike’s reputation — and position as the dominant force in basketball shoes — is not in danger. Fans and players will forgive one random incident. Have it happen again to a high-profile player and… Nike doesn’t want to find out.

 

Marcus Smart on today’s NBA: “Everything’s become real cute… Everybody’s scared to get hit”

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“I think it’s wonderful what we’re seeing in the league right now, some of the rules changes we’ve made in the last few years that really focus on skill-based playing. I’d like to think that young people around the world are able to look at this game and say, I can be as great as my desire to dedicate myself to this game, especially when it comes to shooting and ball handling. I get it, you can’t dream about being seven feet tall, but you can dream about having ball-handling skills like Steph Curry.”

That was NBA Commissioner Adam Silver All-Star weekend in Charlotte, and television ratings and overall interest in the league back him up — NBA ratings have been largely rising for years, both on the local and national level. Fans seem to gravitate towards fast-paced, entertaining teams and games.

But not everybody loves it. Charles Barkley can lead the “get off my lawn crowd.” However, there is a role for throwback players in the game. Guys who would have thrived in the 1990s, or the 1960s. Boston’s Marcus Smart is one of those guys — he told Mirin Fader of Bleacher Report he wishes there was more physicality in the league.

“Back in the ’60s, ’70s, my mindset and the way I play would be perfect. They play like that every game,” Smart says…

“That’s just what it is! Exactly!” he says, a smile breaking through. “I think we kind of lost that in today’s game. Everything’s become real cute. Everybody’s scared to go to the rim. Everybody’s scared to get hit. Everybody’s scared to touch.

“I thrive on the contact. Contact is in my nature.”

The NBA has always had to strike a balance between physicality and allowing skill to flourish. Right now the pendulum has swung well over to the skill side, and some fans romantically recall 1990s basketball when the pendulum was on the other side. They think of Michael Jordan or Allen Iverson and remember the era fondly through the haze of time. Of course, what that time obscured were the slogs of games with scoring in the 80s and maybe 90s, they forget how hard it could be to watch Mike Fratello’s Cavaliers clutch and grab their way to a slow, tedious, and coach-controlled four quarters. The 90s were not filled with the beautiful game.

But in any era, a guy like Smart has real value because he’s a good basketball player. Plain and simple. Just one who would like to be allowed to be a little more physical.