Miles Bridges is in the midst of the best season of his young career. The 23-year-old got serious All-Star buzz and will undoubtedly be in the race for the Most Improved Player award. The Charlotte Hornets have been struggling a bit as of late, but the young duo of Bridges and LaMelo Ball has fans hopeful for the future.
While his percentages may be down, Bridges has improved in every other statistical aspect of his game. He’s scoring more points, grabbing more rebounds, and dishing out more assists. But it’s that last category that should be his focus moving forward - passing.
Ball is the unquestioned offensive leader on the Hornets, and that shows up in his assist numbers. But after that, there’s no true secondary initiator on the team. Gordon Hayward would usually take on that role, but he’s been struggling to stay on the court. And while Terry Rozier is the obvious next man up in that regard, Mason Plumlee has often taken on the role of “secondary initiator” within Charlotte’s offense.
As mentioned, Bridges is averaging more assists than ever, and over Charlotte’s last 10 games, he’s doling out 4.0 dimes a night. However, with his playstyle and strengths, he should be able to be an elite secondary facilitator behind Ball. At least, that’s the next step he needs to take en route to becoming a legitimate star.
And let’s not get it twisted - Bridges has been phenomenal. He’s been everything this Hornets team needed him to be in order to have a successful season this year. But in an ever-evolving league, players always need to be looking to improve. The next logical pathway to improvement for Bridges is becoming a better passer.
One of the most impressive aspects of Bridges’ game has been his ability to finish at the rim. No matter what angle he attacks the basket at, there’s always a chance he’ll be able to finish. Here are a few examples of Bridges making seemingly impossible layups.
None of these shots had any business going in, but Bridges is so crafty at the rim that he managed to convert all three shots. However, these types of layups don’t always fall. This is the main area where Bridges could stand to improve. If he can learn to pass out of some of these layups, it would create a whole new layer to Charlotte’s offense.
With the addition of Montrezl Harrell, the Hornets almost always have a player sitting in the dunker spot. This play is the perfect example. As Bridges is driving to the hoop, Harrell is sitting in the dunker spot waiting for the play to develop.
As soon as Steven Adams presses up on Bridges, there’s a window where he could have dumped the ball off to Harrell for an easy dunk. It’s not the easiest pass in the world, but if Bridges can learn to seek out those windows and use his innate driving ability to open up looks for his teammates, it will take his game to the next level. The shot Bridges got here wasn’t a bad one, by any means, but a dump-off to Harrell could have created a better look.
With how great Bridges has gotten finishing at the rim, opposing defenses have begun to send help off the weakside. The Boston Celtics have been one of the best defenses in the league in 2022. When Bridges got even an ounce of space, they sent over two bodies to help.
Josh Richardson and Robert Williams abandoned their guys on the three-point line, meaning both Ball and PJ Washington were wide-open on the perimeter. Unfortunately, Bridges keeps his head down in an attempt to bully his way to the basket.
Again, this would have been a fairly difficult pass to make. But if Bridges learns to keep his head on a swivel and pass around defenders closing out, contested floaters will quickly turn into open threes. It’s a simple drive-and-kick, but the fact that Bridges is such an elite finisher would make the reward so much greater if he can begin to make these sorts of passes.
He’s shown the ability to zip passes across the court, too. Just look at this one-handed dish to Kelly Oubre Jr. Bridges had the ball on a string.
It’s not a matter of ability when it comes to these tough passes, it’s simply a matter of keeping his head up. Bridges has become so dominant on the drive that he can sometimes get tunnel vision. While this usually works out due to his sheer talent and physicality, if he can combine that with solid court vision, he’ll be nearly unstoppable once he gets to his spot.
Here’s another, even simpler example of Bridges’ driving ability opening up shots for teammates. He gets to the rack with ease, but instead of dumping it off, chooses to take a difficult layup instead.
Not only does Bridges have Washington wide open under the basket, but if he wanted to go for the more difficult pass, Harrell was trailing behind him. All it would have taken is a simple dish to Washington or a behind-the-back bounce pass to Harrell. The pass to Washington would have obviously been the easier option, but regardless, either would have created a better shot than the one he ended up with.
And then there are these types of plays. Bridges gets a free drive to the rim thanks to a great screen from Plumlee. But then he takes a floater instead of taking advantage of the multiple passing options.
Most would look at this as an easy lob opportunity, with Plumlee driving to the lane. And while that’s certainly an option, Karl Anthony-Towns closes out on him quickly. Instead, the real opening is in the far corner.
Jaden McDaniels shifts down, anticipating a rebound, or maybe just to help on Bridges. In turn, Rozier slides over to the wing, making himself wide open for a three. If Bridges even turns his head slightly, he’d be able to notice Rozier and turn a difficult floater into a relatively easy kick out.
Bridges does deserve some credit, however. In recent games, he has improved his awareness and willingness to pass. Whenever opponents shift over to stop his drive, he’s begun finding open teammates. It’s these simple passes that will open the door to the aforementioned difficult ones.
(Focus on the pass, not the result. Bridges can’t control whether or not his teammates catch the ball. This was still a heads-up play by him.)
These dishes may not seem like much, but it shows that Bridges has begun to recognize how much chaos his drives create. Now, instead of passing out of them before he begins to drive, Bridges needs to adapt to kicking out while he’s actively driving.
And he has shown flashes of this. Bridges gets stuck on a drive here but manages to kick the ball out to Rozier in the corner.
This was a nice pass, but it wasn’t exactly a smart one. Bridges wasn’t really looking to pass here, he simply did so out of necessity when his drive got cut off. He then got bailed out because Rozier nailed a tough shot. That could have been avoided, however, if he had passed the ball out to Rozier before even jumping on the drive. It all worked out in the end, but this play was as much luck as it was skill.
Even when Bridges does manage to have the right idea, he just doesn’t have the passing chops yet to make the plays 100 percent of the time. The ability is there, he just has to work on the consistency. And right now, while he’s working on it, those passes can lead to some unfortunate turnovers.
These plays are all part of the learning curve, though. Bridges isn’t going to become a great facilitator overnight, but the fact that he’s beginning to see the openings is a massive step in the right direction. Once he begins to connect on these passes, the Hornets will be even better on offense.
As Charlotte’s offense continues to struggle, Bridges improving as a passer will only help them break out of their slump. The more open looks he generates, the more easy baskets the Hornets will get, whether those looks be at the rim or behind the three-point line.
Bridges is already one of the most exciting young talents in the league. He’s made amazing strides this year and continues to get better every night. There aren’t many players better than him when it comes to driving and finishing at the rim. But once he learns to pass out of some of those drives, it will turn contested layups into easy points. That’s when things will get scary for the rest of the league. And that’s when Bridges will become a true, well-rounded superstar.