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Suns, Smith bridges add muscle to their arsenal for 2021-22 season

Many basketball players struggle to gain muscle mass. The game requires elite cardiovascular conditioning to consistently handle the ascent and descent of a 94-foot court. In turn, it is more difficult for them to gain weight.

Some players are beefy physical specimens, such as LeBron James and Zion Williamson, who each have 6-foot-8 frames carrying 260 and 285 pounds respectively.

It’s not in the genetic makeup of 6-foot-7 Phoenix Suns little forward Mikal Bridges and 6-foot-10 forward / center of power Jalen Smith. Bridges and Smith, who have nicknames “Praying Mantis” and “Stix”, weigh 209 and 215 pounds.

At Suns Media Day last month, Bridges and Smith looked a little more chiseled and thicker in their arms and shoulders than last season.

They’ve been working hard on bodybuilding over the brief two-month offseason, adding a new element of strength to their arsenal that should allow them to initiate and accept more contact in matches.

“Being stronger helps everything, defensively and offensively, in every aspect,” said Bridges. “That’s why I always want to keep things so that I add some muscle in the offseason. Obviously we didn’t have a lot of time, but for guys like me it’s hard to put in the as much muscle as I can lift and eat. “

Bridges averaged 11.1 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.6 assists playing 32 minutes per game, starting 22 in the Suns’ run to the NBA Finals. He is now in his fourth season, the final year of his rookie contract as the Suns discover his rookie extension situation with that of the Deandre Ayton center before Monday’s deadline.

Bridges’ extra muscle strength is vital in helping Phoenix defend stronger guards on the perimeter and occasionally assist in the frontcourt.

Bridges said he worked with Villanova strength and conditioning coach Josh Shackleton in his native Philadelphia, where he played varsity ball in school, and Suns strength and conditioning coach. , Corey Schlesinger, who put together meal and weightlifting programs this summer.

In the Suns’ pre-season win over the Lakers on Oct.6, Bridges tallied 15 points, five rebounds (four defensives), one assist, one steal and one block in 25 minutes played.

“Some people’s bodies are just different. I can feel stronger,” said Bridges. “It’s always been my thing. I know when I get stronger with the weights and everything. Sometimes it might not show. Some people explode and it shows they are getting stronger. You can tell in my numbers that I got stronger and I feel stronger in general. “

The Suns are slim in all four spots, and the great second-year Smith is looking to fill a much-needed rebounding role to accompany his improved shooting and strength.

Dario Sario is still recovering from an ACL tear suffered in the final, but Smith has yet to find his role behind veteran great Frank Kaminsky. Head coach Monty Williams lamented after their Game 6 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks who he would have liked to play more Kaminsky during this series.

To compete for his place, Smith focused on improving upper and lower body strength by doing one to two weight room workouts per day during the offseason.

He was looking to gain confidence in the Summer League in Las Vegas, with the goal of leading him on the rebound, showcasing his scoring prowess including shooting open 3s (he led all front row players in deep attempts, but only shot 27%) and his defense guards agility. He was the Suns’ Summer League team’s top scorer (14.2 points per game) and top rebounder (12 points per game) in five games.

October 4, 2021;  Sacramento, California, United States;  Phoenix Suns forward Jalen Smith (10) holds an assist against the Sacramento Kings in the third quarter at the Golden 1 Center.  Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Additionally, Smith said his increased muscle mass made him weigh 228.

“No matter what, I never hesitated to get in touch,” Smith said. “I mean, it’s contact. You’re going to be hit. It’s a game you have to expect. Obviously the extra muscle is going to be another major impact for me to withstand hits for a lot longer and to be able to keep the big ones and the wings as well. “

He produced just 2.0 points, 1.4 rebounds in just 5.8 minutes for the Suns last season and has been sent off several times in the G-League. Smith and the rest of the Rookie Class of 2020 were unable to participate in the canceled 2020 Summer League due to the pandemic and a tight NBA schedule last year.

In this year’s opening loss to the Sacramento Kings on Oct. 4, Smith tied guard Landry Shamet as the Suns’ leading scorer and rebounder, with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Against the Lakers two days later, Smith had four points and was the Suns’ second rebounder, catching nine behind Deandre Ayton’s 11. In the Suns’ second win over the Lakers on Sunday, Smith showed more signs of his potential as he posted a team-high 12 points and nine rebounds in 16 minutes on the bench.

“His body looks a lot better, but it wasn’t bad. He’s gained some muscle, but he’s just gotten stronger and his conditioning is on a higher level,” said Williams. “It’s probably the hardest thing for young people is that, firstly, the game is moving fast, and secondly, they don’t understand the level of conditioning it takes to play in a Summer League game, not to mention an NBA game.

“We think his summer was positive just based on that. He was in better shape, I thought the game had slowed down a bit for him, and one indicator was his ability to bounce back. You can’t bounce like he does. summer if you’re not in great shape. “

Do you have any advice for us? Contact the reporter at [email protected] or at 480-486-4721. Follow his Twitter @iam_DanaScott.

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