Perley’s Press Pass: Recent Play, Rising Stars MVP Building Bridges’ Confidence

by Sam Perley

Miles Bridges was playing the best basketball of his professional career heading into last Friday’s Rising Stars Challenge at NBA All-Star Weekend in Chicago. Although it was ultimately an exhibition event, that didn’t stop the Hornets forward from showing out to the tune of 20 points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals in route to being named the organization’s first-ever MVP at the competition.

“I really just wanted to go out and have fun,” said Bridges, who became the first second-year player to garner the award after not making the game as a rookie since Kenneth Faried in 2013. “Once I got in a rhythm, I felt like I was going to get MVP. I wasn’t really planning anything. Hopefully, I can do something with the trophy, like putting it in a nice little case.”

Across his previous eight (regular season) outings, Bridges was averaging a team-high 19.6 PPG on 46.8% shooting, 6.5 RPG and 1.1 APG. Those numbers stood at 11.9 PPG on 43.4% shooting, 5.4 RPG and 1.8 APG over his first 46 appearances of the campaign, all but one of which were starts. He’s also getting to the free-throw line over twice as often (1.6 to 3.5) as of late and connecting on close to 80.0% of such attempts.

“Miles has been growing throughout the season and even through the lows of the season for him, he’s stayed aggressive,” said Coach Borrego. “He’s stayed positive and we’ve stayed positive with him. These are young men trying to figure this out. It goes in waves. Sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down, but this kid’s playing with a lot of consistency right now.”

“I do believe he has turned a corner. I absolutely do. I see it in his eyes. I can feel him. He’s different to me. He’s matured and I think he understands his game in a better light right now. He’s attacking the rim, playing off the bounce, attacking the board on both sides. He’s defending at a high level. I just like his overall mentality right now.”

Bridges’ ability to finish at the rim lately has been the main root of his increased scoring output. He’s currently shooting 73.2% in the restricted area during this eight-outing stretch, a significant improvement from the 62.7% clip he posted over the previous 46 games. The Michigan State product has also connected on 10-of-20 corner threes in these eight games (50.0%), after going 26-of-69 leading up to them (37.7%).

“I’m just being more aggressive with offensive rebounding, making the right plays on offense and my defense has really gotten going, too,” Bridges said. “I’m just trying to make things easier on myself. I was doing a lot of one-legged hook shots, shooting difficult shots, all that type of stuff. Now, I just feel like I’m taking my time going off two feet and using my strengths as advantages.”

“I just think Miles has gotten a lot more aggressive,” added Devonte’ Graham, who in addition to PJ Washington, also played in the Rising Stars Challenge. “He’s playing with that confidence and when you get a couple games like he’s had, it starts to build. He’s one of the big keys for us defensively because he can guard one through four, even one through five. When he brings that energy defensively and is knocking down shots, it gets us going, for sure.”

The soon-to-be 22-year old has an offensive rating of 108.0 and a defensive rating of 110.1 since Jan. 28, efficiency metrics that respectively stood at 102.5 and 115.5 beforehand. And while Bridges’ recent honoring came in a mostly defense-optional exhibition showcase, it can still serve as a confidence boost heading into the final 28 games of the season.

“I think [Miles, Devonte’ and PJ] all came in with a different swagger,” added Borrego. “They experienced what that special weekend looks like. They want to get to Sunday though and play in the final game. This allowed them to see that stage and what that looks like. Now, it’s about working and putting in the work to get better, to keep climbing. Overall, it should give Miles and all these young men confidence heading into this final stretch.”

While the glitz and glamour of All-Star Weekend was fun and well-deserved, it’s now in the rearview mirror. The current Hornets rotation is as young as it’s been in quite some time and Bridges says leadership and continued aggression and confidence will be keys to finishing the campaign on a high note.

“I feel like everybody has to be a leader on this team in order to be successful. It’s on everybody. Now, it’s time to get back to the serious stuff. I just need to continue to stay aggressive and make the right plays.”

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