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Miles Bridges has powered through the rookie wall

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The Hornets rookie hit a major lull in early January, but his play has picked back up in recent weeks.

NBA: New York Knicks at Charlotte Hornets Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Miles Bridges’ game is heavily reliant on his confidence. He has an incredibly versatile skill set and can impact games in a number of different ways, but he can disappear if he’s unsure of himself. In the relaxed atmosphere of the NBA Summer League, he put up 15 points and 8 rebounds per game, even while struggling to find his shooting stroke. He was the team’s second leading scorer in the preseason, averaging 12.4 points to go along with 6 rebounds per game while shooting the lights out (55.6% from the field, 47.4% from three).

Those strong preseason performances built up his confidence. He brought that confidence into the regular season and scored 15 points in his second career game. Through his first 15 games, he averaged 7.7 points and 4.1 rebounds per game while shooting 54.7% from the field and 37.1% from behind the arc. He was too passive, but he was playing well.

But as the season wore on, Bridges’ stats started to come down. There were flashes, like the three game stretch between November 30th and December 5th where he averaged 12.7 points per game, but they were fewer and farther between.

His play hit a low point as the calendar turned from 2018 to 2019. In the twelve games between December 19th and January 12th, the 20-year-old averaged just 3.2 points and 3.2 rebounds per game while shooting 25.5% from the field and 9.0% from three. Baked into that 3-point percentage is an eight game stretch where he missed all 15 3-pointers he attempted.

It wasn’t only the numbers that were slumping. Bridges’ on court impact became less noticeable. He was clearly well aware of his struggles, and he let it affect his play. His already passive demeanor worsened. He became more on-court spectator than actual player. He’d play 15 minutes and you’d swear you never saw him on the court.

The wall started crumbling on January 14th. The Hornets were playing the final game of a six game Western Conference road trip, but this was no ordinary road game. It was Tony Parker’s first game in San Antonio as a visiting player, and the Hornets were clearly motivated to get Parker a win against his old team. Perhaps uncoincidentally, Bridges found his confidence in that supercharged environment. He scored 8 points in 18 minutes of play, his most in a non-garbage time setting since December 15th. He snared six rebounds as well, including a trademark Sky Miles tip dunk.

Since then, Bridges’ efficiency numbers have improved tremendously. In his last ten games, he’s shooting 55.6% from the field and 35.3% from three. His rebounding has gotten back to normal and he’s starting to get more assists. He’s more noticeable on the court. He’s mixed in aggressive drives like this one and this one when he senses an advantage. We didn’t see that during his slump.

Miles Bridges has been inconsistent as a rookie, and that’s okay. It’s normal. He hit a wall in the middle of the season as rookie tend to do. Credit him for working through it and credit the coaching staff for being patient with him while he did. With the season’s home stretch looming and a playoff berth on the line, Miles Bridges looks poised to be a key contributor for the Hornets.