Mikal Bridges attended his share of 76ers games while growing up in the Philadelphia area. His mother, Tyneeha Rivers, is an executive at Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, which includes the Sixers in its portfolio.
So the Sixers had to be the Villanova graduate’s favorite team, right?
“I rooted for them, but Tracy McGrady was my favorite player,” Bridges said after working out Tuesday for the Sixers. “Wherever he went, that was my favorite team. So when he was in Orlando, I rooted for Orlando strictly off him.
“But I always root for the home team, for sure.”
While they’re different offensively, Bridges has a few things in common with the 2017 Hall of Fame inductee, and might gain more.
McGrady was selected ninth overall by the Toronto Raptors in the 1997 NBA draft out of Mount Zion Christian Academy in North Carolina. Bridges is projected to be a top-10 pick in the June 21 draft at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The 21-year-old could go as high as seventh to the Chicago Bulls or slip to the Sixers at No. 10.
McGrady, 39, was listed as a 6-foot-8, 210-pound swingman during his playing days. Bridges is a 6-7, 200-pound swingman.
“He was just tough. Nobody could guard him,” Bridges said. “I just grew up watching him and [wore] the sneakers.”
Unlike McGrady, Bridges has shown a weakness in creating off the dribble. However, the all-American is a multi-dimensional defensive standout and was a solid three-point shooter (43.5 percent) last season. He averaged 17.7 points and 5.3 rebounds in 32.1 minutes during the Wildcats’ run to the national championship.
He was asked what was his biggest improvement since college.
“Probably off the bounce, and shooting off the bounce and play-making and ball-handling,” Bridges said. “It probably got better than what it used to be back at school.”
The Great Valley High grad also thinks he’ll fit in well with Sixers standouts Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid in coach Brett Brown’s system.
He noted how the Sixers like to play defense first.
“That’s how I play,” said Bridges, who had a season of eligibility remaining at Villanova. “And also you have Ben and Joel, those two, and I feel like just a person like me can correlate them just when Ben goes in ball screens or transition. I’m that guy who you can find in the corner or that’s going to cut to the basket, just move without the ball well for them, and the same for Embiid. Just create space for them.”
Bridges participated in a lot of shooting drills during his Sixers workout. The main thing was attempting 100 three-pointers. He also went one-on-one against a couple of the team’s coaches and four-on-four against a “dummy defense.”
“I thought he did a great job,” said Marc Eversley, the Sixers vice president of player personnel.
Bridges’ agent did not want him to compete against another draft prospect.
Earlier in the day, the Sixers worked out Texas Tech combo guard Zhaire Smith, Creighton guard Marcus Foster, Loyola-Chicago swingman Donte Ingram, Georgetown forward Marcus Derrickson, Middle Tennessee State forward Nick King, and Oregon forward Mikyle McIntosh.
Smith is expected to be a lottery pick in the upcoming draft. However, Bridges was headliner of the day.
“He kind of fits a profile in terms of pace, space and defend,” Eversley said of the three attributes the Sixers like in players. “He can space the floor. He can get out and run, and he can defend. So it terms of him fitting in with our system, he checks a lot of boxes.”