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Trending Hornets: Miles Bridges’ development is right on schedule

After a late-season breakout campaign to end the year, Miles Bridges could be turning heads in 2021-22.

Charlotte Hornets v New York Knicks Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The Trending Hornets series evaluates the career trajectories of Charlotte’s players based on two advanced stats - Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) - as provided by Basketball Reference.

PER measures per-minute production standardized such as the league average is 15. A PER above 15 means a player contributed above league average. As a frame of reference, among this year’s PER leaders the Top 60 rated somewhere between 17.7 and 31.3.

VORP is a box score estimate of the points per 100 team possessions that a player contributed above a replacement level player. A VORP of 1.2 means the team was 1.2 points better off per 100 possessions with this player on the floor versus a league average player. Among this year’s VORP leaders the Top 60 rated somewhere between 1.6 and 8.6.

This week we will look at the brief trajectory of Miles Bridges.

Career trend overview

Miles Bridges’ career is trending exactly as hoped for the No. 12 pick in the 2018 draft. Before proceeding, we need to first be realistic about the expectations of players drafted where he was. The Ringer’s Zach Kram wrote an excellent piece outlining the expected value of every spot in the draft lottery. The players who represent the median No. 12 pick are Alec Burks and Gerald Henderson. The four players drafted at No. 12 before Bridges were Dario Saric, Trey Lyles, Taurean Prince, and Luke Kennard. In other words, the expectations for No. 12 picks are guys who are generally good-but-not-great NBA players.

In this third NBA season Miles Bridges’ advanced stats were just that - good, not great.

His PER of 14.7 is just below the league average of 15.0. His VORP of 1.0 is noticeably better than a replacement player at his position. Without context it appears Miles Bridges is just an average NBA player. But context is everything. Bridges is young and he’s only getting better.

This past year counted as Bridges’ age 22 season. Per Basketball Reference, in 2020-21 there were only 12 other players in their age 22 season or younger who averaged at least 20 minutes per game (min. 30 games) and matched Miles’ PER and VORP. It’s a pretty select list, too: Luka Doncic, Zion Williamson, Jayson Tatum, Trae Young, Michael Porter Jr., Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Deandre Ayton, Jarrett Allen, LaMelo Ball, Tyrese Haliburton, Collin Sexton, and De’Anthony Melton.

There aren’t many players Bridges age or younger whose advanced stats are as promising as the Hornets young, emerging forward.

What this means for the Hornets

Miles’ upward trend indicates that he’s right where he should be, developmentally speaking. He had some struggles earlier in his career, which was to be expected, then took a significant step forward in 2020-21.

This could also mean he’s poised for a breakout season in 2021-22. After a slew of injuries to other Hornets starters last year, Bridges ended the season on an offensive tear and demonstrated he can be a lead scorer when needed. Over his final 19 games played last year, Miles averaged 20.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.8 assists while shooting 51.6% from the field. During that stretch he also hit 58-of-133 3-pointers, or a blistering 43.6%.

And as I’ve previously written, on the season his Effective Field Goal Percentage of 59.6% was 15th best in the league among players with at least 600 field goal attempts. That’s noteworthy for any player, but especially for one who’s still playing on his rookie contract.

It usually takes time for players drafted toward the end of the lottery to realize their potential - if they ever do - and Miles is right on schedule for a player his age. Don’t be surprised if his PER and VORP continue to climb from here as his game continues to mature.