Every season an average of six players make their first All-Star appearance. Last season it was Anthony Edwards, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jaren Jackson Jr., Tyrese Haliburton, De’Aaron Fox, and Lauri Markkanen. This is a group of young up-and-coming stars, but in the 2023-24 season some older players, like Mikal Bridges, Jamal Murray, and Jalen Brunson could be in the mix. It may be uncommon for players over 25 to be first-time All-Stars, but age is not the main factor. Mike Conley, for example, had to wait 14 seasons to be an All-Star and his game did not explode in the way Bridges’ did.
With the Phoenix Suns, Bridges was a good player—an excellent defender and a solid scorer—but he was only a role player. Every night, he took on the toughest defensive assignment and did what was asked of him offensively, but he rarely ever got to step out of Devin Booker’s and Chris Paul’s shadows. That changed as soon as he donned a Brooklyn Nets jersey.
When Kevin Durant asked out of Brooklyn it seemed that the Nets would have to start over and maybe even go through a rebuild. Getting Bridges softened the blow. The Nets valued him a lot as a defender and an offensive piece that could save them from having to build the team up from the ground or at least make the process much easier. Bridges exceeded expectations. Defensively he didn’t miss a step once he got to Brooklyn, and his offensive game exploded.
With more touches and opportunities to explore his offensive game. Bridges almost looked like a new player. He quickly took over as the Nets’ leader and the focal point of the team’s offense. For the last 27 games of the regular season, once he joined the Nets, he averaged 26.2 points on 47.5 percent shooting from the field and 37.6 percent from three, 4.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1 steal. That is almost ten points more than he averaged in the 56 games he played with the Suns last season.
The biggest transformation in Bridges’ game was easily the fact that he now creates more for himself. Over his time in Phoenix last season, according to Second Spectrum, 54.5 percent of his shots were assisted. The year before it was still around 70 percent but once he got to Brooklyn and was left to his own devices that number went down to 40.2 percent. His number of assisted shot attempts per game stayed very consistent, but his unassisted shot attempts almost doubled. As a result, Bridges also got to the line a lot more.
Interestingly, his efficiency did not suffer much from that, though. He shot 47.5 percent on field goals with the Nets despite taking more shots (attempts went up from 13.6 to 18.6 per game) and facing tougher defenders. With the Suns, opponents threw their best defenders at Devin Booker, Chris Paul, and Deandre Ayton before even looking at Bridges. Now, he is at the top of the scouting report and draws plenty of defensive attention. None of this has deterred Bridges, however, and he quickly became an efficient high-volume scorer.
His efforts were not enough to keep the Nets from being swept in the first round of the playoffs but his ascendence makes the future in Brooklyn look much brighter than first seemed possible when their big three collapsed and decided to leave town. Bridges will probably never be the number one option on a championship contender, but he adapted well to the change and is now a true two-way player.
All that might very well earn him his first All-Star selection this upcoming season. His defensive talent and availability—Bridges is yet to miss a game in his NBA career—set him apart from other stars in the league. Many of the top players in the NBA are pure scorers, which is crucial in a league that is so focused on offense, but now that Bridges expanded his offensive game, he somewhat shrank the gap between role player and All-Star.
The East is wide open right now—the Bucks are aging, the 76ers are falling apart, and Miami still hasn’t landed Damian Lillard—and the Nets could end up pretty much anywhere in the standings. For Bridges’ All-Star case that won’t matter too much, though. Last season’s Eastern Conference All-Stars included plenty of players from mediocre teams like Tyrese Haliburton, Pascal Siakam, and DeMar DeRozan.
The most important thing for Bridges is that he now has an entire season with the ball in his hands and every opportunity to solidify his status as a lethal scorer. Even if Ben Simmons returns to the court in good shape and determined to go on a revenge tour, Bridges will be a focal point in the Nets’ offense and continue to lock down All-Stars defensively.
He doesn’t even have to improve much. If he keeps up the same production he showed during the last 27 games of the season continuously, his All-Star case already looks solid. Judging by his most recent performance at the FIBA World Cup, Bridges is more than ready to start off next season on the right foot. In Team USA’s dominant win over Italy, he led the way with 24 points on efficient shooting, 7 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block in 18 minutes of playing time.
If that is indeed the case, one of the Eastern Conference All-Star spots could easily be his. Last season’s All-Stars in the East were Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Joel Embiid, Bam Adebayo, DeMar DeRozan Jrue Holiday, Julius Randle, and Pascal Siakam. Durant and Irving are now both in the West, and DeRozan, Holiday, Randle, and Siakam are all not locks to make it again next season.
When it comes to star power to beat out in the All-Star voting, the East is definitely the easier conference, and while there is still plenty of tough competition, especially on the wing, Bridges has the chance to make a solid case.