Miles Bridges Soars to Strong Rookie Season Finish

by Sam Perley

Miles Bridges might not have been one of the most talked-about players from the 2018 NBA Draft, but he certainly finished his rookie season as one of the most exciting. Between the countless highlight-reel dunks, jaw-dropping athleticism and promising two-way abilities, the future is bright for the Charlotte Hornets with the now 21-year-old Flint native in the fold.

Charlotte acquired Bridges and two future second-round picks in a draft-day deal last June, sending Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s rights to the L.A. Clippers. Fans got their first on-court taste of the Michigan State product a few weeks later at the Las Vegas Summer League, where Bridges shined with averages of 15.0 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.4 SPG and 1.2 BPG across five outings.

In his first preseason game against the Boston Celtics up in Chapel Hill, NC, Bridges landed on the SportsCenter Top-10 with a pair of spectacular put-back dunks in the fourth quarter. He opened his rookie campaign in the rotation, primarily backing up Nic Batum at the small forward position.

Like many first-year players, Bridges wasn’t initially asked to do a whole lot, particularly on the offensive end. He used his 6-7, 225-pound frame to bully his way to the rim, where a majority of his scoring came this season (141-of-210; 67.1%). The reigning Second-Team All-American also displayed a promising knack for hitting threes and utilized his springiness to gobble up rebounds, blocks and loose balls.

Bridges put up 6.5 PPG on 44.7% shooting, 3.5 RPG and 1.0 APG over 19.0 MPG in 55 appearances heading into the All-Star Break, a stretch that was littered with sequences of his impressive athletic ability. He was chosen to participant in the Dunk Contest on All-Star Weekend in Charlotte, where he finished third thanks in part to his Larry Johnson-inspired slam.

Following the league’s midseason showcase, Head Coach James Borrego moved Bridges into the starting lineup, sending Jeremy Lamb to a bench unit badly in need of an offensive spark. The promotion perhaps served as a confidence boost for Bridges as he averaged 9.6 PPG on 49.0% shooting (35.1% from 3P), 5.3 RPG, 1.6 APG and 1.1 SPG over the final 25 games.

He notched his first NBA double-double on March 21 against Minnesota, tallied a career-high 20 points in a win over Boston two nights later and finished the season with consecutive 18-point outings. Bridges played heavily in the fourth quarter during the team’s late-season surge, splitting his time overall this year between the small (53%) and power forward (47%) positions.

“I thought he was up and down through the first two thirds of the season,” said Hornets President of Basketball Operations and General Manager Mitch Kupchak. “I thought he showed flashes, Defensively, I thought he struggled. His confidence, shooting the ball, putting the ball down and getting to the rim some games was spectacular. Of course, when he gets a step on somebody, there’s going to be a spectacular finish.”

Kupchak also emphasized that although Bridges and the rest of the team’s younger players saw big minutes over the last few weeks of the season, that doesn’t guarantee anything heading into next year.

“It depends on what you do the next five months,” he said. “I’m not going to say that you’re a starter in this league for ten years. You’ve got to work. All these young guys have five months off right now. There’s going to be the draft and opportunities to sign players and make trades, so you can’t sit back and say I’m a starter in the NBA. You may have ended the season as a starter, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to be a starter at the beginning of the season. In this league nothing is given. It’s earned.”

Along with top-7 picks DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Wendell Carter Jr., Bridges was one of just five rookies this season to average at least 7.0 PPG on 45.0% shooting, 4.0 RPG and 1.0 APG. He was also one of five first-year players to play at least 80 games and ranked 10th amongst rookies in blocks (0.61).

Coach Borrego added after the regular season finale on April 10, “I didn’t really have expectations of him coming in. I just wanted him to grow and what I can say is that Miles Bridges grew throughout the season. He became a starter for us. He belongs in this league. He belongs out there on that floor. He ignited us over these last two or three weeks and his ceiling is very high. I can’t wait to watch him work this summer. The first game you see him on the floor next year, I think you’ll see a much different player. He understands what he needs to work on and we have a lot of time before we tip off next season.”

“It was a struggle at first just trying to find minutes, but coach believed in me,” Bridges said. “I’ve got great teammates and they believed in me, too. [Next year, I want to] create more on the offensive end. I’m going to stick to my defensive principles and my rebounding, but I have to fix my IQ. I’ve got to up it a little bit. Recognize situations and make the right plays on offense and on defense.”

Bridges does have a few things to focus on heading into his first NBA offseason, although already possesses phenomenal athleticism, work ethic and maturity. It may have been a normal, up-and-down rookie campaign, but the Charlotte Hornets certainly look to have quite an exciting young player on their hands moving forward.

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