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The Hornets need Miles Bridges to step up as a playmaker

The second year pro will have all facets of his game tested in the coming season.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Charlotte Hornets Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Miles Bridges had a solid yet unspectacular rookie year for the Charlotte Hornets. The box score numbers won’t wow you with their volume, but they do show an impressive amount of versatility for a rookie. Bridges is going to have to build on that versatility in his second season.

The Hornets didn’t just lose their best player when Kemba Walker left for the Boston Celtics in free agency. They lost their best playmaker. Walker led the team with 5.9 assists per game and tied for second in the league in secondary assists per game. He dominated opponents’ defensive focus, which opened up everything else for his teammates.

Now Walker is gone, and his shoes are being filled by Terry Rozier. The former Celtic is far from the prototypical point guard. In our five questions with CelticsBlog about Rozier, Jeff Clark noted a couple times that Rozier is looking to get his shots up first and foremost. Setting his teammates up for good looks isn’t as high on his priority list.

That’s not unlike another young Hornet expected to take on a larger role this season. Dwayne Bacon is presumed to be a starter when next season tips off, and he isn’t going to be dropping dimes either. He’s a shot hunter. He was that way at Florida State, he was that way in the G League, and he’s been that way as a Hornet. That isn’t likely to change with a worse cast around him. We saw it in the Summer League. The coaching staff wanted to see him create for others, and it just didn’t happen.

All that means that facilitation is going to have to come from somewhere else in the Hornets starting lineup. The coaching staff may elect to reinsert Nicolas Batum into the starting lineup for his facilitation abilities. The next best option at the two or three is probably Malik Monk, and he’s not a distributor by any means.

Regardless, the Hornets are going to have rely on Miles Bridges to facilitate some from the forward spot. He’s shown flashes of that ability, averaging 2.9 assists per game over the team’s 13-game playoff push. The team shouldn’t expect him to initiate the offense in the half court; he isn’t proficient enough as a ball handler at this point for that kind of role. But he can haul in rebounds and push in transition. We saw him do that a couple times in Summer League—finding open runners and shooters on the break. He can also function as a secondary creator against scrambling defenses by attacking closeouts and getting open off cuts.

He showed off that playmaking near the end of the season. In this play and this play, Bridges finds Marvin Williams open for three in transition and in this one he makes a nifty pass to Malik Monk on the break. Here, Bridges attacks a mismatch in the post and draws help, which leads to an easy layup for Bismack Biyombo. Later in that same game, he finds Biyombo for a good look as a pick-and-roll ball handler.

Bridges has the mentality to be an above average passer for his position as he grows into the NBA game. The Hornets are going to need that out of him, because they’re lacking in that mentality in places where you more typically see it. Expectations are low next season, which gives Bridges the perfect opportunity to expand his game and grow into the player the Hornets need him to be.