For the first two-and-a-half seasons of his NBA career, Hornets forward Miles Bridges was known mostly for only his freakish athleticism and highlight-reel-generating slams. But ever since he moved into Charlotte’s starting lineup last April, the rest of his game has caught up quickly to all the high-flying theatrics.
Gordon Hayward’s foot injury seven months ago opened a door for Bridges that he sprung through and never looked back. After putting up 20.1 points and 6.7 rebounds over his final 18 games (17 starts) in 2020-21, Bridges has erupted for averages of 25.5 points on 51/36/88% shooting, a scoring average that ranks 10th in the NBA through Friday night’s loss in Miami.
He’s already matched his previous career total with three 30-point games this year and was just named the NBA’s Eastern Conference Player of the Week. Says Head Coach James Borrego: “It validates where his career’s at, how hard he’s worked to get to this point. I don’t think anyone saw this coming and he deserves all the credit. I know he’s going to give a ton of credit to his teammates, and he should, but he’s worked his tail off to put himself in this position.”
“[Hitting shots] opens up the floor for everybody,” says Bridges. “If I’m hitting shots, I can drive and when I drive, I can score or create from somebody else. It’s big when I’m hitting my shots. My teammates are doing a great job of finding me, Coach is doing a great job of drawing stuff up for me. I just want to continue to keep playing hard.”
From last season to this season, he’s doubled his attempts in the restricted area (3.6 to 7.2), where he’s shooting 72% thanks to an impressive ability to finish with both hands. No longer confined to only the corners as a third or fourth option, Bridges is firing off more than twice as many above-the-break three-point attempts (2.8 to 6.0) and connecting on 39% of these shots.
Bridges is also second in the NBA in spot-up scoring right now (7.5 points on 42% shooting), after finishing with 4.3 on a 39% efficiency last season. He’s tied for 12th in transition points per game (5.0) and is doubling or close to doubling his previous seasonal output in points off turnovers (4.5), second-chance points (3.2), paint points (12.7) and fouls drawn (2.8).
The 23-year-old is second on the team in boards (8.0) and has also done an excellent job when it comes to pushing the tempo off live-ball rebounds and takeaways for the NBA’s sixth-fastest team. While his assists are down a touch (2.2 in 2020-21 to 1.7) largely because he’s taking more shots now, Bridges’ potential assists have risen from 4.2 to 5.3.
But it’s not just on the offensive end where Bridges is standing out – he’s already been tasked with guarding some of the NBA’s elite scorers like Kevin Durant and Jayson Tatum. The Michigan State product is averaging career highs in steals (1.8) and deflections (1.8) and sits second on the Hornets in contested shots per game (8.3) behind only center Mason Plumlee.
“I feel like with the way he’s scoring, a lot of people are overlooking his defense, too,” says Cody Martin. “He’s really good on that end blocking shots, getting steals, deflections, things like that. He does it all. He’s been a dog for us.” Adds Borrego, “He’s finishing at a high level, competing on the other end. I know the [Player of the Week] award is probably recognized for the offense, but he’s doing as much defensively for us as the offense."
There might be some slight regression in Bridges’ statistics once Rozier – the team’s leading-scorer last year – fully returns, although it’s encouraging that the Hornets have a player who can shoulder a heavier offensive load when necessary. For now, Bridges’ start has been spectacular to witness from a developmental standpoint and something that has resonated loudly on a national stage and certainly with his teammates as well.
“He’s locked in, he’s focused,” says Kelly Oubre Jr. “He’s just going out there and trying to be the best him that he can be. He’s really motivating to watch up close in person. He’s determined to step up and not allow us to fail on the court in the times when we need pick-me-ups. We feel his energy when he’s out there. He’s locked in on the moments every night.”
For Miles Bridges just the dunker, the sky had literally been the limit. Now, for Miles Bridges the blossoming all-around, do-everything basketball player, that phrase has taken on a whole new meaning.