During Mikal Bridges’ predraft workout with them Tuesday, 76ers coaches and scouts had him shoot 100 three-pointers. They ask every perimeter player they’re considering drafting to shoot 100 three-pointers. Marc Eversley, the team’s vice president of player personnel, called the figure “a platform to evaluate all these kids.” Based on his career at Villanova, particularly his final season there, Bridges would probably call it a piece of cake, no more strenuous or challenging than the average game of H-O-R-S-E.
In winning their second national championship in three years, the Wildcats set three NCAA records regarding three-point shooting: most made in a regular season (464), most made in an NCAA tournament (76), and most made in a Final Four game (18, against Kansas). And Bridges was perhaps the greatest beneficiary of Jay Wright’s strategy to soup up Villanova’s offense into college basketball’s version of the Golden State Warriors system. He took more threes than any other Villanova player (239), made more threes than any other Villanova player (104), and made threes at a higher percentage than any other Villanova player (.435).
Go back and watch the Wildcats’ 79-62 victory over Michigan in the national championship game. Bridges hit three three-pointers in the second half, all of them in transition, all of them in situations in which another team might have either pushed the ball to the rim or pulled back to run a half-court set. That was how the Wildcats played all tournament, with a combination of daring and unselfishness that made them a joy to watch and one of the most dominant teams in recent postseason history.
“We just played so well together — just giving up a good shot for a great shot,” Bridges said Tuesday at Sixers headquarters in Camden, after his workout. “As a team, mostly everybody on our team could shoot, and if you have a three or a two, that’s how the game is going: toward a lot of threes. We play so well with each other that even if you have an open shot, a really good shot, the guy next to you might have a great shot. That’s what we did all year.”
When Eversley said that Bridges “checks a lot of boxes” for the Sixers, that’s what he meant. The Sixers led the NBA in passes last season. They already have two maturing superstars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. They ranked among the league’s top 12 teams in three-pointers made, three-pointers taken, and three-point percentage, but they likely will need a player who not only can replace JJ Redick and/or Marco Belinelli as a long-range shooter, but also can provide better perimeter defense.
Given those circumstances, Bridges, who is 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot wingspan, would fit seamlessly into the Sixers roster. If he’s still available when the Sixers are set to pick at No. 10 next Thursday, the decision to select him would seem the definition of no-brainer.
And that’s where things get complicated. Bridges might not be there at No. 10. Hoops Hype, the statistics/salary database and NBA news website, compiles and updates an aggregate of mock drafts; its latest predicted that Bridges would go ninth overall. And an analytical model by ESPN found that Bridges was actually the fifth-best prospect in the entire draft. The Sixers have six picks in this draft, including two in the first round. According to Hoops Hype, they have less than $45 million in salary commitments for next season, when the cap will remain at $101 million, and everyone is aware of their desire to add a superstar, be it through free agency or a trade.
So, would the Sixers move up to get Bridges? Would they stay at No. 10 and hope he’s there, waiting for them? Or, is this draft deep enough that they could even trade down and select another player with a similar profile and potential – say, Miami’s Lonnie Walker, who worked out for them Monday, or Texas Tech’s Zhaire Smith, who worked out for them Tuesday morning, just minutes before Bridges did?
“With six picks, I think our flexibility is pretty good,” Eversley said. “It allows us to either move up and get a good player or maybe move back and get a good player. In terms of the strength of the draft, I think it’s a pretty good draft from one through 10. If we pick at 10, I think we’re going to get a pretty good player. If we move back to 15, I think we’re going to get somebody who’s going to have the ability to earn a roster spot and contribute.”
The gap between pretty good player and somebody who could earn a roster spot is fairly wide. Assuming it’s an accurate evaluation of this draft and an honest insight into the Sixers’ thinking, their choice seems clear: You do what you can to get Mikal Bridges, either at No. 10 or earlier, and you don’t look back.