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2021-22 Hornets Player Preview: Miles Bridges

The fourth year pro will be trying to solidify himself as the third banana long term.

Memphis Grizzlies v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Miles Bridges didn’t find his footing in the NBA right away. He came off the bench for most of his rookie season before being inserted into the starting lineup in the final couple months of the season. He played well in a limited role among a bunch of veterans like Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb, Marvin Williams, Nicolas Batum, and so on. There was an exodus of veterans following that season, That sped up the Bridges timeline, and he probably wasn’t ready for it. The box score stats looked okay, but he frequently got lost defensively and wasn’t efficient on offense.

The Hornets thought it best to move Bridges back to the bench last season after the signing of Gordon Hayward and the impressive rookie season of PJ Washington. He embraced the role as a low usage energy sub.

On April 1st, the Hornets took on the Brooklyn Nets in a nationally televised game on TNT. They trailed 32-11 after one quarter and trailed by as many as 32 points in a game that was never competitive. Bridges finished with 10 points and five rebounds in 30 minutes of action.

Whether or not that particular game flipped the switch or if the timing was coincidental will never be known, but it marked the start of a new Miles Bridges. Bridges appeared in 19 regular season games after that low point. In those 19 games, he averaged 20.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game while shooting 51.6% from three and 43.6% from three. A covid-relate absence threatened to derail his hot streak, but he returned from his near two-week hiatus with 30 points off the bench in an overtime loss to the Knicks.

That late season star turn has Bridges positioned in the starting lineup heading into the 2020-21 season. If the preseason is any indication, he looks ready to build off that success. His outside shot hasn’t fully come on yet, but he finished his last meaningful preseason minutes with 22 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists in 31 minutes against the Miami Heat.

Bridges has developed a remarkable chemistry with LaMelo Ball, both on and off the court. Playing with the ever-confident Ball seems to have fully unlocked the creativity Brdiges has flashed at points in his young career and has emboldened him to play with more swagger than we saw in his first two seasons. Bridges looks more consistently sure of himself with the ball in his hands and has ratcheted up his aggressiveness in trying to score and set up his teammates.

Bridges will be starting alongside ball this season, and the duo will probably spend the majority of their minutes on the floor together. That means more highlights like these...

We haven’t gotten to see the full potential of this duo yet. Ball did most of his damage during his Rookie of the Year campaign pre-broken wrist. Bridges’ breakout came a few weeks later, and Ball was very clearly bothered by the wrist for the final few weeks of the season after his return. The preseason gave us some encouraging teasers, and hopefully those will translate when the real games start on Wednesday.

The Hornets will count on Bridges to be their fourth best player on most nights after Ball, Terry Rozier, and Gordon Hayward. He should thrive in that role. He’ll get open looks from three and plenty of lanes to drive through with all the defensive attention the aforementioned trio command. He’ll be counted on to spend a lot of time guarding opponents’ best wings when the Hornets play man, and he’s shown he can use his strength and athleticism to bother just about anyone when he’s locked in.

Bridges will have more on his shoulders than he ever has, but he looks ready for it. It shouldn’t be long before people in NBA circles take notice of Bridges as more than just a dunker.