Season Recap: Miles Bridges Delivers on Increased Two-Way Responsibilities

by Sam Perley

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Before the start of the campaign, Hornets Head Coach James Borrego told forward Miles Bridges that he would be asked to do far more this year than he did as a rookie – both offensively and defensively. While it took a little while to find a consistent footing, Bridges finally found his rhythm over the final seven weeks of the season.

It took just three games into the schedule for Bridges to score a new career high, netting 23 points against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on Oct. 27. Five outings later, he tallied his second career double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds at home against Boston and two weeks after that, reset his career high with 31 points in Washington.

The first three months of the season were a mixed bag for Bridges as his scoring totals often fluctuated from game to game. Points aside, he generally found numerous other ways to contribute though, whether it was putting pressure on the rim at both ends, floor spacing, rebounding or two-way playmaking.

Things really started clicking for the now 22-year-old after the Hornets returned from Paris on Jan. 28 as he embarked on a career-long 13-game stretch of scoring in double figures. He averaged just over 18 points on 45 percent shooting and six rebounds during this span, which included six 20-point games and a career-high 15 rebounds in Houston on Feb. 4.

“I feel like the game started coming to me. I wasn’t trying to force anymore. I just let the game come to me,” recalled Bridges. “My teammates are very confident in me. Coach Borrego and the rest of the coaching staff did a great job of putting me in areas where I could be successful. They just started understanding my game more. Once we got rolling, that’s what happened.”

“I do see some leadership out of him,” said Borrego after a 22-point game by Bridges in Chicago on Feb. 20. “I think he’s maturing and growing. I see him more vocal on the sideline and in huddles. He’s really giving us a jolt out there, and his scoring has been there as well. He’s finding ways to impact the game offensively. This is a two-way type of player.”

Sandwiched within this run, Bridges was chosen along with teammates Devonte’ Graham and PJ Washington to represent Team USA at the Rising Stars Challenge at NBA All-Star Weekend in Chicago on Feb. 14. He finished the showcase outing with 20 points, five rebounds, five assists, three steals and a handful of highlight-reel dunks off the bench, picking up MVP Honors.

The only Hornet player to appear in all 65 games this season, Bridges finished the year with averages of 13 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists, ranking third on the squad in each of the first two categories. He shot 42 percent from the field, his three-point percentage improved to 33 percent and his free-throw efficiency jumped from 75 to 80 percent.

“I feel like I made smarter decisions my second year,” he said. “I didn’t have as many turnovers compared to last year. I played smarter on the offensive end. Next year, I want to improve on my defense and continue to guard the best guys. I want to get better at that aspect.”

Over the team’s final eight games– a stretch in which the Hornets ranked 10th and 11th respectively in the NBA in offensive and defensive rating – Bridges was tied for second on the team in individual net rating (4.2). He averaged 11 points on just 33 percent shooting though, a sign he was finding ways to positively impact the game even when shots weren’t falling.

“I feel like we were paying a lot of attention to the defensive end,” said Bridges, when asked about the team’s play over the final few weeks of the season. “At first, everyone was just worried about offense. Coach just really started preaching defense and that’s what we focused on. Everybody started buying in. It was fun. We were able to get out in transition and that’s where our best offense comes from.”

Bridges spent almost three quarters of his on-court minutes this season at the three, sometimes sliding to power forward or in rare instances, even the two-guard. Versatility and athleticism have made Bridges a valuable chess piece in the rotation and he’ll certainly be relied on as a major pillar for the Hornets heading into next season.

“I feel like if we continue to build our chemistry, we’ll be very dangerous out there,” he stated. “We started to play very well as a team towards the end of the season. I feel like that showed in our record. If we played like that the whole season, then we would have been a playoff team this year. We’re going to strive for that next year.”

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