Improved Playmaking, 3-Point Shooting Driving Miles Bridges’ Breakout Season

by Sam Perley

Lately, it seems like a majority of the attention Miles Bridges has been receiving is coming via one of his many thunderous, posterizing, social-media-igniting dunks followed by an exuberant reaction from Bally Sports broadcaster Eric Collins. But lost in the madness sometimes has been just how truly well-rounded Bridges’ game has become in his third NBA season.

Since replacing the injured Gordon Hayward in the starting lineup back on April 4th in Boston, Bridges has risen to the occasion with averages of 19.4 points on 53% shooting, 7.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists, while knocking down 44% of his three-point attempts (28-of-64). With a multitude of ball-handlers unavailable right now, the Charlotte forward has been empowered with significantly more playmaking responsibility, particularly over the last two weeks.

“He’s really turned the corner in that area from last year to this year,” said Hornets Head Coach James Borrego before Sunday’s home win over Portland. “He’s playing with the ball in his hands in the pick-and-roll, he’s handling, setting screens, handling in dribble handoffs. He’s able to shoot the ball off the bounce a little bit more now. He’s got the catch-and-shoot right now. The playmaking is the biggest thing I’m seeing out of his growth and development right now.”

As Borrego mentions, Bridges’ shot creation has been one of his most noticeably improved areas. His overall field-goal percentage this season has risen from 42% to 51% and his three-point efficiency has jumped almost seven points to just under 40%. Per CleaningtheGlass.com, he ranked in the 41st and 49th percentiles amongst NBA forwards in corner and total threes made last season, respectively. This year though, those numbers have jumped to 80th and 74th.

Utilizing his improving array of footwork and creativity, Bridges is also shooting 50% on pull-up threes across his past nine games (40% beforehand), a meaningful bump for any player that possesses his level of downhill explosiveness and basket-attacking ability. Also jumping from the 35th to 78th percentile in the rim-finishing category, Bridges’ progression as a more polished one-on-one threat has naturally opened up the offense more for those around him.

“I think for him, his versatility is just big,” said teammate PJ Washington. “I mean, he can play or guard any position on the court. He’s athletic, he can shoot, he can pretty much do anything. To have a guy like that and he’s playing well, it’s great for me. He’s playing his best basketball of the season. We encourage him to just keep going, keep being aggressive and to play his game. When he’s out there doing him, I feel like nobody can stop him.”

The 23-year-old has certainly taken advantage of his newfound duties following the team’s recent wave of injuries – he’s also the only Hornet player to appear in every game so far this season. And at the moment, he’s within striking distance of joining an inclusive statistical club if his shooting continues to click down the final stretch of this season.

“I don’t think any of us saw that he would make this type of leap,” Borrego said. “When you get an opportunity like this and you’re forced to do it, my hope and belief is that it’s only going to stay there pretty consistently. So, he’s a big part of this. He’s got to keep us afloat right now. I think he’s on pace to shoot 50% from the field, 40% from three, and 90% from the free-throw line. I think he’s knocking on the door step right there.”

He added, “To see him take that leadership role this year has been refreshing because that’s not easy. He’s become one of our more vocal leaders on this team, which is not easy to do. He’s taken a major jump on the court as well. It’s hard to say what’s more important or what’s the biggest area of growth for him. What I can say is I’ve seen significant growth in both areas.”

With just 15 games remaining in a quickly-coming-to-an-end 2020-21 NBA season, the Charlotte Hornets will need Miles Bridges to keep giving them everything he has been lately as they look to snap a five-year playoff drought come next month.

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