Before starting, I’d like to state on the record that Shawn Marion is one of my all-time favorite members of the Phoenix Suns. What he did for the 7SOL Suns was underappreciated, and even though things ended poorly he remains one of my favorites.
Along with that, anyone who followed me around the 2018 NBA Draft process knew that Mikal Bridges was “my guy” far before Phoenix even traded up for him. He has quickly soared up my all-time favorite Suns list in just his first three seasons and some change here in the desert.
There’s something about the underappreciated stars that impact the game silently at times that really grows on me, and many other Suns fans out there. This isn’t meant to pit these two against another, rather appreciate them and start conversations about how impactful Mikal could truly be and already is and how awesome Shawn Marion was for Phoenix.
This article was inspired by the latest Suns Solar Panel Podcast where Dave King and I briefly discussed this debate. Give it a listen!
Without further ado, let’s get into the numbers and try to settle the debate!
Context is important. At this stage, Marion was an all-star the prior season although he didn’t make the cut in his age 25 season. That alone puts him ahead of Bridges’ trajectory at this stage of his career… not that ASG appearances are the end all be all of this discussion, but it gives him the obvious edge right now.
He was also a much larger part of the Suns offensive system that was predicted on Nash finding Stoudemire and Marion in different ways. This current Suns team has a more balanced scoring attack once you get past Devin Booker. The wiring between the two is entirely different, yet similar in odd ways.
The Matrix averaged far more shot attempts per game and was a much better rebounder (partially due to his role) and how he played offensively. He was a machine when it came to raw numbers.
Marion’s age 25 season:
19.0 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 2.7 APG, 2.1 SPG, 1.3 BPG on a 47.4 eFG% in 40.7 MPG on 17.0 FGAs.
Bridges’ age 25 season (so far):
12.9 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.6 BPG on a 61.4 eFG% in 34.2 MPG on 9.7 FGAs.
Now, the raw counting stats point towards Marion quite heavily, but if you dig deeper the case for Mikal becomes a little more clear. The difference in efficiency is VERY MUCH in favor of Mikal not only this season but throughout each of their careers thus far. Mikal will have to bump up the volume to have the offensive impact Marion did, but the floor spacing favors him as well.
The role Bridges plays defensively in today’s game is extremely important as he fights around screens, picks up full court, and chases the opponent’s top scorer all game long. Marion’s defense was also underrated for what he did on a bad defensive team, but he didn’t have quite the same impact that Mikal did on that end. Advantage Mikal there.
Marion destroys most people in counting stats due to how involved he was in the Suns system back then, and I don’t mean that as a knock. Statistically speaking he put up gaudy numbers and that should not be overlooked. His activity on the glass, quick second jump for putbacks and ability to soar in transition made him dangerous, and one of the most electric players in the NBA in his prime.
For Bridges to get to Marion’s level, we’ll need to either see another couple more small offensive leaps the next few years or one major one.
Volume + Efficiency
Marion shot the ball 17 times a game that season. His shooting splits went as followed:
- 2PFG%: 6.3-13.6 (46.5%)
- 3PFG%: 1.1-3.4 (34.0%)
- FT%: 2.9-3.4 (85.1%)
Bridges is shooting the ball just 9.7 times per game this season. His shooting splits are listed below:
- 2PFG%: 3.9-6.2 (62.9%)
- 3PFG%: 1.4-3.5 (39.1%)
- FT%: 1.1-1.3 (84.0%)
For me, at this point, it’s about taking prime Shawn Marion out of the equation for a second and projecting what Mikal could look like in his age 27, 28, and 29 seasons if he continues to progress at this rate. He still has a couple of years before getting there, so that is quite important to take into consideration.
That being said, it’s tough to pick one of the two without any qualifications for what you’re picking them for specifically. I created this Twitter poll below to gauge where people are at long-term because it’s not ideal to compare year 4 Bridges to “Prime Matrix”.
Take Your Pick
Who will have the better Suns career when it's all said and done?
— Zona (@ZonaHoops_) November 29, 2021
It’s impossible to predict because no one can see the future. Marion is a very high bar for Mikal to reach. It’s also one I think he’s absolutely capable of getting to when looking at the trajectory of his game. The best is yet to come.
Let’s revisit in 10 years.
Also, for those that may not have seen the Matrix in his prime, or even those who have… here’s a reminder of what he was capable of. A trip down memory lane. 36 & 20 in a playoff game is NOT NORMAL!
Closing Statement: PUT THIS MAN IN THE RING OF HONOR ALREADY!!!