Mikal Bridges: 'Crazy' how many times bigs have won Defensive Player of the Year over guards

·4 min read

Phoenix Suns guard Mikal Bridges made his case during the 2021-22 NBA campaign as to why he’s more than deserving of winning this season’s Defensive Player of the Year award.

But it’s going to take voters — consisting of sportswriters and broadcasters — looking beyond traditional defensive stats that often favor a center’s candidacy.

Bridges, in an exclusive interview with Yahoo Sports, wants voters to dig deeper.

“I would never discredit anybody, and obviously bigs have been winning that award for a while and they do a hell of a job, but the amount of times a big has won over a guard is just crazy,” Bridges told Yahoo Sports. “I think people take it for granted how tough it is to guard the top perimeter players in this league and not be able to really touch them because they’re going to get the foul call. I feel like as a defender on the perimeter, you just get disrespected. I’m not even talking about me personally, but I don’t understand how guards in general don’t win it. These guards are shooting off ball screens, they get isos with the offense spaced out and a lot of shooters on the court. You’ve got to guard these matchups one-on-one, and I think we just get taken for granted.”

Phoenix's Mikal Bridges defends LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers during their game on March 13, 2022 in Phoenix. (Chris Coduto/Getty Images)
Phoenix's Mikal Bridges defends LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers during their game on March 13, 2022 in Phoenix. (Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

Bridges, 25, has traveled the most distance on defense of anyone this season, he’s seventh in defensive win-shares (3.7) which has contributed to the Suns’ 106.7 defensive rating that trails only the Boston Celtics (106.2), and he’s in the 99th percentile of the most difficult defensive matchups assigned.

He’s always available and holds the longest active streak of 307 consecutive games played.

Furthermore, there are no slow nights for the fourth-year veteran. He goes from guarding Luka Doncic, to Ja Morant, to LeBron James, to Stephen Curry, to Damian Lillard to Donovan Mitchell on a nightly basis. His willingness to handle the toughest assignment is a critical component to why the Suns possess the league’s best record at 63-17.

Golden State Warriors defensive star Draymond Green said Bridges would be his choice for DPOY.

“That was so dope to hear that from Draymond,” Bridges said of Green. “Obviously with everything he does on the court, he understands how tough it is to guard a dude on ball. I just wish the voters would actually watch the games. But I can only control what I can control.”

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert and Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid are among those in contention for DPOY, but Bridges has better betting odds than both to win the award.

It’s been 26 years since a guard was awarded the hardware. Hall of Famer Gary Payton was the last guard to receive it in 1996.

“I’m telling you, again, I’ll never discredit none of the bigs, but they don’t have the matchups we have to face,” Bridges told Yahoo Sports. “There are not as many talented bigs in the league as there are talented wing players and guards. Guarding one through four is tough. If you want to do the math, look up how many skilled players are one through four, and then how many skilled players are at the five. Obviously, you have a lot of talented fives, but out of all 30 teams, not every big on the team is very skilled. That’s just how I look at it.

“But like I said, I never discredit what centers do because being an anchor on your team and pick-and-roll defense, being on the weak side, that’s a part of the game as well. I understand why they get the love. But I just feel like when you really look at it, you’ve got to start looking at the guards and how being on that perimeter guarding one through four is tough.”

Bridges has the most usage matchups this season, meaning his defense causes a ballhandler to terminate the possession via a field-goal attempt, free-throw attempt or turnover. He has 69 more of these than the next closest player, an indication that Bridges is guarding the players who shoot the most or forcing a player to do something he doesn’t want to do.

Bridges holds those matchups to 91.8 points per 100 possessions and to an effective field-goal percentage of 48.4%.

The 6-foot-6 guard with a 7-foot-1 wingspan believes he’s done enough to warrant breaking that guard-winning defensive drought.

“For sure,” Bridges told Yahoo Sports. “I’m not saying that there are not other really good defenders in this league. But for sure I think I should win. I’m out there every night looking to match up with the best and make it a tough on guys. I pride myself on being available every single time. It is about team defense because I know I’ve got four other guys with me, but when I guard a guy, I make it tough on them.”