The Charlotte Hornets Summer League has come and gone, and while it did not end with a championship, there were several bright spots for the young Hornets.
Head coach James Borrego sent second-year players Malik Monk, Dwayne Bacon and Willy Hernagomez (third year) to start alongside rookies Miles Bridges and Devonte Graham. The thought was that these guys are likely to play actual minutes together this season, so better to start working on their chemistry now.
Each of the veterans provided hope and showed improvement, but most eyes were on first-round draft pick Miles Bridges. Bridges played and started all five games for the Hornets, and it is clear there is a lot to work with. It wasn’t all pretty, but it was exciting.
So what did we learn from Bridges in summer league and what does that mean for his role with the Hornets this season?
As my colleague Nick Denning pointed out, Bridges averaged 15 points per game on 34 percent shooting from the field. He also averaged 8.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.2 blocks per game. However, he shot just 20 percent from 3. While the shooting numbers were not great, Bridges displayed a well-rounded game. Spending time at the three and the four, Bridges did an excellent job of mixing in jump shots with his driving game. Let’s dive into what worked well on offense.
Let’s start with the positives. The second year at Michigan State paid off for Bridges as he is much stronger and much more filled out than the average rookie. Bridges used his muscular physique to get easy opportunities on the offensive glass and get to the free throw line. During summer league Bridges averaged 3.6 free throw attempts on 83 percent shooting, and also averaged 2.4 offensive rebounds per game. His ability to score easily while rounding out his offensive game is important.
In their opening game, Malik Monk was the first option, while Bridges was probably the third or fourth option behind Monk, Willy Hernagomez, and Dwayne Bacon. After Monk went down, Bridges became the second or third option and then when Willy left, Bridges shouldered the scoring load along with Bacon.
It is valuable that Bridges got experience playing different roles. Also, it is important to remember that Bridges will likely come off the bench to start the season and won’t be the number one or two option, so his efficiency will likely go up in the regular season when he has more of a defined role.
Still, Bridges struggled with things rookies often struggle with. One was shot selection. The good news was he was confident and aggressive, but sometimes he bit off a little more than he could chew. (Like when he tried a double spin move, throw it off the backboard slam. If he finished it, it might have been the play of summer league.) As for 3-pointers, his mechanics need to be ironed out, but it looks pretty good. I mentioned earlier he only shot 20 percent on 30 attempts. It was good to see him keep his confidence from deep, despite a lot of misses. During the regular season he should benefit from cleaner looks with improved spacing, and besides, we didn’t draft him to be a sniper.
His poor shooting numbers led to a true shooting percentage of 43 percent and a 38 percent effective field goal percentage, which are not good, but he did enough to show value and potential. He only turned it over 1.2 times per game, which was very good, and was a great rebounder on both sides of the floor. As for passing, I didn’t see much regarding advanced playmaking, but he was able to make a simple read and wasn’t a ball hog either.
I like that Bridges goes right to work and hits his defender with a crossover and goes to the right and drives to the middle of the paint. Once he gets the help defender to commit to him, he whips a one-armed pass to an open cutter for an easy layup. Good look by Bridges.
Add it up, and Bridges had a 17.9 PER and posted decent offensive win shares and rating numbers. It was not efficient, but it was versatile. He found ways to score, even though his shot wasn’t falling. I particularly liked him in transition — he was always running the floor, filling the lane, and throwing down some impressive dunks.
In the half court, he has a couple of different moves. One he loves to pump and drive from three and two he loves the spin move. He has a couple of nifty floaters and running hooks he can use to finish over defenders. Watch this play:
Bridges gets the ball on the left side of the court, a step into the 3-point line. Once again he immediately goes to work. Bridges reverse pivots takes one dribble, and then hits his defender with a spin move, takes one more dribble and finishes a soft running hook over a contesting defender. This is a big-time move.
Bridges competes, battles, and brings effort on every possession. You can see the Michigan State mentality in him. He is a good athlete, and he is strong, so the physical tools are there as well. I mentioned Bridges had 1.8 steals per game and 1.2 blocks per game while only averaging 1.2 fouls per game. The low foul rate is particularly impressive considering the Summer League is usually a hack fest.
He also showed some excellent on-ball defense. Demonstrating the ability to move his feet, Bridges didn’t bite on fakes and foul. He also spent time guarding different positions, which will serve him well this upcoming season. In Summer League, Bridges posted a 96 defensive rating and 0.22 defensive win shares.
There were times, however, where he struggled with some off-ball defense and rotations, but nothing out of the norm for a rookie. It was more positive than negative, and he looks ahead of the curve for most rookies on the defensive end.
Here, Bridges is isolated against a Raptor player on the left side of the wing. He gets hit with two crossovers, and then his man takes three dribbles to the middle, spins, and goes up for a turnaround runner in the lane. Bridges moves his feet the whole time, keeps up with all the moves, and then blocks the shot at its highest point. He then chases the block down, keeps in bounds and goes on the attack in transition. What a play!
Positional Fit, Lineups and Role
So what can we take away from Bridges’s Summer League that will translate to next season? One his role, at least to start, will be coming off the bench. Nicolas Batum is likely to be the starting small forward, and Marvin Williams will start at power forward. Bridges will come in to replace one of them; I think most likely to replace Marvin. Bridges have the size and strength to handle the four, plus at the four he won’t need to be as much of a shooter.
If he does play the three, he will likely be surrounded by Marvin, or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (those two may be interchangeable among the three and four depending on matchups). Both of the guys can also spare Bridges from the tougher defensive matchups as he learns the game.
On defense, Bridges will spend times defending both threes and fours and don’t be surprised to see him switch a lot, as he has a fair amount of defensive versatility. On offense I expect his role to be simple early, run the floor, crash the glass, and spot up either to shoot 3’s or pump and drive and try to get to the free-throw line. As his game expands, you will see some elbow sets for Bridges and some isolations called to let him go to work one-on-one.
The good news is Bridges can do a couple of things well already. That is valuable. He can play multiple and guard multiple positions, and he is not a one trick pony on offense. His role on offense will be limited at first, so he will have time to round out his game and fit in with the teams. I was happy when we drafted him, and after the summer league, I am even higher on him. Get excited Hornet fans!