The craziest storylines of the NBA season (so far)

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The NBA is never drama-free, and there’s a reason the NBA playoffs are one of the few reasons to remain on the toxic hellsite that is Twitter these days. But even for the NBA, this season has been a spectacle worth of Vanderpump Rules. As we inch ever closer to the post-season, here’s a look back at some of the shenanigans we’ve endured so far this season.

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Not since Wilt Chamberlain was traded at the 1965 deadline from the Golden State Warriors to the Philadelphia 76ers has there been such a mid-season seismic shift. Durant had requested a trade the last summer, only to come to terms with the Nets when they couldn’t find a team willing to meet their rightfully egregious bounty. But the chaos continued to fester in Brooklyn, led by the enigmatic Kyrie Irving, who Durant followed to Brooklyn in the first place. Irving demanded a trade from the Nets a few weeks from the deadline, which informed Durant to follow suit. The Nets have become the league’s top poverty team, even though the spare parts they got back for Durant and Irving have played well.

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What kind of functional team squanders James Harden, Irving, and Durant in their prime? Durant’s move to the Suns shifted the paradigm of Finals favorites in Phoenix’s favor. No superstar is more plug-and-play than Durant. Add him to any team and prepare to enjoy the spoils of his dominance. Players of Durant’s caliber aren’t typically traded like this. But the Nets’ timetable to win now and chaotic mismanagement for the top-down forced Durant to take his prime years seriously and get the hell out of dodge. Now with the Suns, they have become the perennial favorites. Pairing Durant with Devin booker is a cheat code.

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After recording personal bests in points (20.2), rebounds (7.0), and assists (3.8) last season, Bridges was arrested in the summer of 2022 for felony domestic violence stemming from an alleged physical altercation with the mother of their two children, whom he purportedly violently beat in front of their kids. It’s an awful story. Bridges ultimately entered a no-contest plea to a single felony domestic violence charge on Nov. 3. He was sentenced to three years of probation without serving any time in jail. Bridges will complete 52 weeks of domestic violence counseling and 52 weeks of parenting classes, perform 100 hours of community service, and undergo weekly narcotics testing.

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All that being said, Bridges should never play in the NBA again. There has to be a line the league draws in the sand regarding what kind of character they allow to participate in the NBA. Bridges violently assaulting the mother of his children in front of their children should be that line. When he said in a recent interview that he might be “back in a couple of months,” the NBA should have immediately issued a statement saying, “No, you won’t.” The league and the Hornets need to make this off-season about how they handle the future of Bridges’ career and future cases where one of their players allegedly brutally beats a woman.

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On the flip side, how the Brooklyn Nets and the NBA front office handled Irving’s sharing of Black Israelite propaganda on his social media platform was disgusting. Irving took longer than needed to apologize for sharing a video that used quotes from Adolf Hitler to make its case that African Americans are the true descendants of Biblical Israelites. But the laundry list of chores Nets owner Joe Tsai and NBA commissioner Adam Silver forced Irving to do before getting back in the league’s good gracias was disingenuous and pious. Irving deserved to be suspended for a few games for his inability to address the controversy head-on.

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The Nets, or any team, can choose not to do business with players who say or do things that go against their code of conduct. But the laundry list of goofy “to-do’s” the Nets organization demanded he completes before returning to the floor is too far. It’s a move meant to embarrass Irving, forcing him to bend the knee, not to the group he offended but to the Nets organization. As Shannon Sharpe eloquently said on Undisputed at the time, “I believe they’re trying to rob the man of his dignity,” Sharpe said. “They are trying to make him grovel to get his job back, and I don’t agree with that.”

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Things are approaching an apocalyptic level for the Dallas Mavericks. First, they lost Jalen Brunson for nothing last summer because they hired a glorified shoe salesman as their general manager. This summer, they could lose Kyrie Irving and Christian Wood, their second and third-best players, for nothing as unrestricted free agents. If that were to happen, it’s only logical Luka Dončić would be the next star to demand a trade out of town. So the Mavs made a desperate swing at pairing Dončić with a star co-pilot before the deadline, shipping off starting point guard and second-leading scorer Spencer Dinwiddie and glue guy Dorian Finney-Smith, their best perimeter defender. They got back Irving and washed veteran Markieef Morris in return.

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Irving has continued his stellar scoring spree with the Mavs, averaging 27.8 PPG, 6.6 APG, and 5.1 RPG. But the Mavs offense has struggled on defense, as they rank 23rd in defensive rating. The offense from out-of-timeouts, on inbounds plays, and at the end of games has been atrocious. Basically, boiling down to Dončić and Irving taking turns heaving near-impossible hero shots at the buzzer. Irving needs to resign this summer with the Mavs for the trade to be worth it. It has been reported he won’t settle for less than $50 million per year. If the Mavs lock into a four or five-year contract at that asking price, just for him to demand a trade next season or the one after, it might be a domino effect the franchise won’t be able to stop, much less slow down.

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The Grizzlies’ Ja Morant was recently caught on Instagram Live at a strip club with friends while brandishing a gun. Like many young people, Morant associates carrying a gun with being tough. His actions put himself and those around him in danger. At present, Morant is slated to make a comeback on Monday against the Dallas Mavericks. Initially, the Grizzlies had suspended him for two games, but later they announced that he would sit out at least four games for “conduct detrimental to the team.”. The NBA has decided to include the five games Morant has already missed in his suspension, and he will not receive payment for this time. In a recent interview with Jalen Rose, Morant admitted to entering counseling for his behavior, having recently discharged himself Wednesday.

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The recent gun incident wasn’t Morant’s first brush with controversy. Over the past year or so, Morant has been involved in at least four incidents. The first was in January, involving Morant’s entourage and the Indiana Pacers staff, where they claimed after the game someone in Morant’s SUV aimed a red laser at a security guard believed to be a gun. A month later, Morant was accused of allegedly assaulting a teenager and threatening him with a gun during a pick-up game at Morant’s house. Morant needs to learn the responsibilities that come with being one of the faces of the NBA. Millions of impressionable children are watching his every move, including on his social media, and seek to emulate him. While the televised interview came off slick and heavy on the PR, only time will tell if it sticks.

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The most maligned and misanthropic NBA franchises of the last 20 years are finally out of the gutter and in the playoff hunt. The Sacramento Kings and New York Knicks mirror each other in many ways. They both spent the better part of the last two decades drowning in bad contracts, worse players, and coaching carousels. But today, it’s a different story. Both have elite All-Star-caliber pick and roll tandem, the Knicks with Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle, Kings with De’Aaron Fox and Domantis Sabonis. Both have mostly built their cores through the draft (Fox, Davion Mitchell, Keegan Murray for the Kings, RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Immanuel Qucikley, and Quentin Grimes for the Knicks). Both have old-school coaches with imperfect playoff track records but have shown an ability to evolve (Mike Brown and Tom Thibodeau). And both have insanely loyal and knowledgable fanbases desperate for a winning team to root for.

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When their fanbases are activated, Madison Square Garden and Golden 1 Center are two of the toughest places to play, giving their respective teams an elite home-court advantage, with the fans acting as the sixth man. The Kings have the best offense in the NBA while sitting third in the West. The Knicks have the fifth-best offensive rating and are in fifth place in the East. Each team has a complimentary mix of veterans (Harrison Barnes, Kevin Huerrter for the Kings, Josh Hart, and Isiah Hartenstein for the Knicks) and young players.

Neither team has a bonafide superstar, but with Fox number one in clutch points, directly followed by Brunson at number two, plus two MVP candidates in Randle and Sabonis, the future is very bright. The pressure is now on in a good way, not to dig themselves out of the muck of the bottom standings but to get out of the first round and ride their feel-good storylines to a deep playoff run.

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Even Donovan Mitchell couldn’t believe he was not a New York Knick. After weeks of tense negotiations between the Knicks and the Jazz, executive Danny Ainge seemed annoyed with Knicks Executive Vice President William “World Wide Wes” Wesley’s presence in the front row of the Jazz and Mavericks’ first-round playoff series last season. Ainge decided to dash the Knicks’ hopes of trading for a hometown hero, sending Mitchell to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Oddly enough, that wasn’t Ainge’s most controversial move last summer. That would be the King’s ransom he got for his other former star, Rudy Gobert, from the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Jazz received Malik Beasley, Patrick Beverley, Leandro Bolmaro, Walker Kessler (No. 22 pick in 2022 Draft), Jarred Vanderbilt, and Minnesota’s 2023, 2025, 2027, and 2029 first-round picks plus a 2026 pick swap. That’s five years of draft control the TWolves handed over to the Jazz for a player who seemed an odd fit alongside TWolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns.

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But the rest of the league cared way less for how Gobert would fit with his new team, because the trade had wider ramifications for the trade market. The trade created a stalemate among teams looking to trade, as Gobert’s ridiculous trade return inflated the perceived with of players deemed better than Gobert. Teams with disgruntled stars like the Nets with Kevin Durant or the Spurs with Jakob Poeltl. Gobert’s return was a package better suited for a team acquiring Durant. The impasse wouldn’t be broken until Irving, a damaged asset with plenty of baggage, was traded for way less than he would have been two years ago by the Nets to the Mavericks. Once Irving was traded, the market was reset, and other dominos fell, leading to the wildest deadline in modern NBA history. But for a moment, it felt like Danny Ainge’s highway robbery might have broken the NBA’s trade machine.

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For those who watched LeBron James score his first points against the Sacramento Kings during his first NBA game on Oct. 30, 2003, breaking the scoring record this season was extra sweet. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time scoring record felt like one of the few unbreakable NBA records. In a Tuesday night game against the Oklahoma City Thunder in early February, James needed 36 points to break Jabbar’s record. In a stunning performance, he dominated the game with a remarkable 16-point third quarter, culminating in a beautiful jumper with only 10.9 seconds remaining. This propelled him to a career total of 38,388 points, surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s decades-long record. He already held the record for most total points scored in the NBA playoffs with 7,631 points.

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For a ceremony commemorating the occasion, the game was briefly halted for approximately 10 minutes, during which members of James’ family, including his mother, wife, three children, and even Jabbar, stepped onto the court to share the moment with James. As celebs, former teammates, and Lakers greats watched from the stands, James made history as the league’s all-time leader in points. Despite playing 224 minutes less than Abdul-Jabbar did at the same stage of their respective careers, James scored 530 more points than the former Lakers star did. He also benefited from the three-point shot, a scoring method Jabbar did not have in his arsenal. After the NBA introduced the three-point line in 1979, Abdul-Jabbar made just a single three-pointer in his 20-year career. In contrast, James has scored 17.5% of his points from beyond the arc, increasing his attempts as he ages. This season he’s averaging a staggering 29.5 PPG at 38 years old. It took Abdul-Jabbar 1,560 games over 20 years to tally 38,387 career points. James looks to have at least another three years left in him. The record he sets when he finally hangs it up could be truly insurmountable.

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It seems like yesterday Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George had united in Oklahoma City of all places. The “big three” was a bust before George demanded a trade to the Clippers right after signing an extension with OKC. Then came the Chris Paul-led underdogs, paired with a bunch of wily vets and youngsters Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lu Dort. Only Dort and SGA remain two years later, but they are both integral parts of the cornerstone rebuild Sam Presti devised after squandering having three MVPs simultaneously (Westbrook, Durant, and James Harden). Presti selected Josh Giddey, Tre Mann, Jalen Williams, Jaylin Williams, Isaiah Joe, and Chet Holmgren with a record number of draft picks.

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When Holmgren injured his foot during an exhibition before pre-season, this season looked like it would be a guaranteed tank job for projected number one pick, Victor Wembanyama. SGA and his young cohorts had other plans. The Thunder are currently two games under .500 and in 10th place, good enough for the Play-In Tournament. This season they are third in pace, 10th in defensive rating, and 14th in offensive rating. Not bad for only year three of the rebuild. The emergence of SGA as a superstar this season has accelerated the rebuild and forced Presti’s hand from committing another egregious tank job. Presti still has an absurd number of draft picks over the next five years and will eventually use them to outbid anyone for the next star that demands a trade out. When he does, the Thunder could be positioned for the best run to a championship in their franchise’s young career. Now it’s time for the OKC Thunder’s band of merry pranksters to shock the world this postseason with a playoff birth.

Has Joel Embiid overtaken Nikola Jokić for MVP?

Joel Embiid may finally get his MVP.

Don’t count MVPs before they hatch. Nikola Jokić’s third consecutive MVP has seemed like an inevitability during the first three-quarters of the season. Jokić’s triple-double averages, improved offensive efficiency, advanced statistics, and Denver’s No. 1 seed in the Western Conference all appeared to tip the scales toward Jokić walking away with the award.

Trench warfare in the 2023 MVP discourse has reached critical mass in recent weeks. Bleacher Report analyst Andy Bailey almost abandoned Twitter due to the backlash from Philly fans. Kendrick Perkins grasping for straws with his consistent bashing of Jokić sparked a war on First Take with JJ Reddick that took the MVP conversation to ghost pepper levels on the Scoville scale.

Who’s the MVP favorite now?

However, on Friday,’s MVP ladder forecasted a shift in the atmosphere by anointing Joel Embiid as the new front-runner. Historical precedent dictates voters aren’t far behind. This latest development in the race is reminiscent of a year ago, when Jokić surged ahead of Embiid in one of ESPN’s final MVP straw polls on March 29 after leading the vote in February. Inexplicably, Embiid had also outplayed Jokić in the month and a half between straw polls, which added to the resentment among Embiid backers who believed that Jokić’s first two MVPs were stolen.

“What else I have to do to win it, and to me … at this point it’s like, it’s whatever,” Embiid wondered aloud last year after leading the league in scoring.

But this time, what Embiid’s been doing over the first 70 games of the season — and especially in the last 30 days — has been working. It turns out Embiid just had to overtake the reigning MVP in one single metric. Although MVP voting isn’t an exact science, player efficiency ranking has always been considered the most reliable benchmark.

For a majority of the season, Jokić’s MVP argument hinged on the Nuggets’ record and the trove of analytics leaning in his favor. He still leads in true shooting percentage, VORP, box plus/minus, defensive plus/minus, win shares, and offensive plus/minus, but take those with a grain of salt. Any defensive metrics that have Jokić ahead of Embiid or the field by such a large margin are untrustworthy. PER is king though.

How to win an NBA MVP

Here are the last 10 leaders in PER and where they wound up in the final MVP vote tabulation at the end of their respective seasons.

  • 2022: Nikola Jokić (1st)
  • 2021: Nikola Jokić (1st)
  • 2020: Giannis Antetokounmpo (1st)
  • 2019: Giannis Antetokounmpo (1st)
  • 2018: James Harden (1st)
  • 2017: Russell Westbrook (1st)
  • 2016: Steph Curry (1st)
  • 2015: Steph Curry (1st)
  • 2014: Kevin Durant (1st)
  • 2013: LeBron James (1st)

The MVP trophy should have been named after basketball academic John Hollinger, who developed the all-in-one PER formula, instead of Michael Jordan because the metric is now tantamount to a basketball burning bush. It’s no surprise, then, that Embiid just surpassed Jokić’s previously insurmountable lead in PER.

How did Embiid catch up over the past month? By taking his game up a notch while Jokić and the Nuggets have sputtered.

Since March 8, the Nuggets rank dead last in defensive efficiency and Jokić has been helpless to halt their five losses in the past six games. Since Dec. 1, the 76ers have accumulated the best record in the NBA while competing in a more challenging division. Embiid has been downright unguardable in March averaging 36.1 points on 62.7 percent shooting from the field, 8.8 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per contest. Jokić’s numbers have been his quotidian 25/12.8/9.1, but Embiid has altered games on both ends of the floor.

Philadelphia’s eight-game winning streak, which began with Embiid outperforming Antetokounmpo in crunch time and draining a game-sealing triple on the Bucks’ home floor, was instrumental in altering the narrative of this race. Or it could have been Embiid’s obliteration of Ja Morant at the rim in a tightly-contested 110-105 win over the Grizzlies on Feb. 23. Following Philadelphia’s 141-121 win over the Pacers, Embiid earned the endorsement of Rick Carlisle. The eyeball test, the stars, and the stats are aligning for Embiid. Buckle up, these last 12 games are going to be a rollercoaster ride.

Check out more of Deadspin’s Philadelphia 76ers coverage here.

Damian Lillard sounds like he’s threatening to Barry Sanders his career

Damian Lillard dropping retirement hints on J.J. Redick’s podcast?

Damian Lillard was in the news Wednesday for sounding like an old head during an appearance on J.J. Redick’s The Old Man and the Three podcast. From saying young players were entitled, to worrying about the direction of the league, and all the championship tropes that have followed him in between, if anyone wanted to write a think piece about how Lillard sounds in lock-step with the NBA on TNT crew, the time is now.

However, I’m not going to do that because a bunch of other sites had that aggregate prewritten. What I’m here to talk about is this portion of the sit-down.

“Bro, I don’t need to prove to y’all that I wanna win a ring. Why the hell do I play? I don’t need to prove that to y’all. I understand that we play to win championships and we all want to win a championship, but we can’t keep acting like nothing matters. Like the journey doesn’t matter. We can’t keep doing that. There are so many ways the league is different. There are so many ways. I think about it all the time that I don’t know if I can play a long, long time because I don’t enjoy what the NBA as a whole is becoming.”

There’s a lot here, but let’s concentrate on the very last line.

“I think about it all the time that I don’t know if I can play a long, long time because I don’t enjoy what the NBA as a whole is becoming.”

Is that Barry Sanders’ music?

If Lillard retired after this year, he’d finish with 11 seasons, one more than Barry Sanders and two more than Calvin Johnson. (I doubt Lillard will step away because, my god, look at that contract, but entertain me for a few more paragraphs.) He’ll be a Hall of Famer like them. Not that it’s all that hard to do in the NBA, but as a member of the All-75 teams and as the all-time leading scorer in Portland Trail Blazer history, Dame Time is assuredly making the cut.

It sounds like, in Lillard’s mind, he has nothing left to prove even if he doesn’t have a ring. The fans may not think that. Actually, the fans 100 percent don’t think that, and it sounds like that’s what’s driving him away from the game.

It reminds me a lot of how Sanders’ career ended, or even Johnson’s exit. Obviously, those instances were largely a product of being members of the Detroit Lions for their entire career, and having almost zero playoff success. Yet the core messages are the same though, and that’s, “I’m moving on because this isn’t fun anymore.”

Sanders was sick of having to make defenders miss in the backfield, Johnson was sick of dealing with back pain, and Lillard is sick of pains in the ass — more specifically, the people who tell him his achievements don’t matter because they’re not adorned with a ring.

An abrupt end, when they’re still seemingly in their primes, would not be the only parallel though. And the one that matters the most, at least in regard to my argument, is the players’ approval ratings.

As long as fans are putting together highlight reels of exciting NFL and NBA footage, Barry, Megatron, and Dame will be on there. They will be featured because their greatness is irrefutable. The only people who have something bad to say about these players are the ones who have a kink for titles, for arguments, for nonsense.


Tell me Lillard isn’t one of the most fun players the NBA has ever had. Say it. Say you don’t enjoy watching him play. This isn’t James Harden flopping around for 40. Lillard is an assassin if ever there was an assassin. He had 71 points in a game this season, and people were like, “That’s not impressive.” 

Why? Because he’s not on his fourth contender in 10 years? Go out to the playground right now and try to emulate his game. It’s near impossible to do. As a kid, I used to set up chairs and bob in and out of them with a football under my arm, not like Emmitt Smith because he had a ton of success. Like Barry Sanders because he turned grown men into quivering statues in the open field.

If Jrue Holiday carried a franchise for a decade, then maybe kids would be playing defense instead of tapping their wrists after clutch buckets. He didn’t. Lillard has. So enjoy it while it lasts because it sounds like it might not last that much longer, and definitely isn’t going to end with Lillard hoisting the Larry O’Brien in your team’s colors.*

*My colors are red and black, so, yes, I very much revel in telling you to fuck off. If you want to read more of me defending Damian Lillard (or one of our other writers weighing in objectively), check out Deadspin’s Portland Trail Blazers team page.

Mikal Bridges is the calm after the storm of Brooklyn’s tumultuous Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant era

Mikal Bridges has been a boon for Brooklyn

Today is the one-month anniversary of the NBA trade deadline that put the league in a blender. While the Phoenix Suns seem content with their half of the trade that netted them Kevin Durant, the Brooklyn Nets have quietly been winners in their own way. In addition to the first-round picks Phoenix surrendered, giving up Mikal Bridges was the cost of doing business.

A year ago, Bridges was the NBA’s runner-up in the Defensive Player of the Year voting to Celtics guard Marcus Smart. His perimeter containment of every opponent’s top perimeter player was instrumental in Phoenix obtaining a top-3 defensive rating.

However, he was pigeonholed as a 3-and-D swingman. Every year a player gets pushed out of town to make way for a bigger NBA constellation and either continues carving out a role for themselves as a niche player, gets exposed with more responsibility under their belt, or runs with their franchise player audition and never looks back. Before the 2022 trade deadline, Tyrese Haliburton responded to being traded to Indiana by transmuting himself from a role player in Sacramento to an All-Star playmaker. A decade ago, James Harden exploded from Sixth Man of the Year to avant-garde offensive generator. Mikal Bridges has made a leap that’s somewhere between those two and drastically altered his career trajectory in the meantime.


Bridges coming into his own

This season, Bridges has assumed a similar mantle as the trade deadline piece who’s proven themselves the most in new surroundings. Since he first suited up for Brooklyn on Feb. 11, Bridges has become the Nets’ diamond in the rough averaging 26.5 points on 53 percent shooting from the field, 3.3 assists, and 5.3 boards.


With the confidence in Bridges swelling at hyper-speed, the Nets have moved on from the Kyrie and Durant saga with few regrets. In retrospect, they would have been better off shedding both earlier this summer and entering the Wembanyama race their two stars were preoccupied with sending resumes out. However, Bridges is a first-class consolation prize.

Becoming the fulcrum of the Nets’ offense has enabled him to stretch beyond his worker bee duties, playing lockdown defense, draining corner threes off of kick-outs, or occasionally slashing down the baseline when his defender overcommitted. In Brooklyn, he’s become the elite two-way player we saw glimpses of when he was the captain of his upside as the focal point of Jay Wright’s National Championship Villanova squads.


In Brooklyn, his usage rate has increased from the 19.7 rate career-high he accumulated over 56 games in Phoenix to 26, which he accumulated over the last month in Brooklyn. That usage rate would rank among the league’s top 10 if it were extrapolated over the course of an entire season. Bridges has also squeezed into the profile of an elite three-dimensional scorer by getting to the line twice as often since he was jettisoned to Brooklyn and by averaging 50/40/90 in a Nets uniform. He’s even shown the capacity to take all-universe defenders like Giannis off the dribble.


Not only has Bridges kept up his proficiency behind the arc, but he’s ramped up his activity on mid-range attempts while maintaining the efficiency of a top-10 mid-range scorer. Bridges has increased both his volume and accuracy on pull-up jumpers, even as Jacque Vaughn has questioned the shot selection.

“What we do want is for him to continue to get to the rim and shoot threes for us,” Vaughn said after Brooklyn’s win over Houston on Tuesday. “I’m learning more about him, what shots he likes to get to. If they’re going in we love them, but we do wanna have a profile of really getting to the rim and shooting threes and putting pressure on the defense that way also.”


But don’t expect him to cut that out of his game anytime soon. As long as he’s a threat from outside, the midrange game will be a valuable tool in his arsenal when defenders play drop coverages to take away his strengths.

In the long run, Bridges’ emergence has made it possible for Brooklyn to hit the ground running on their rebuild. Because they possess a bevy of first-round picks that belong to the Jazz, Suns, 76ers, and Mavericks and play in a large market that can at least grab the ear of prospective free agents, the incentive to gut the roster isn’t as strong as it would be in Oklahoma City. The Nets obviously won’t be in contention until a more potent cavalry arrives, but Bridges has made them a team worth watching on the peripherals.


We’re committed to covering news about the Nets as well as all of the NBA. For more about Brooklyn and others, check out our Nets team page.