While LaMelo Ball made his first All-Star team this year, Miles Bridges took the biggest jump. Before this season, the Charlotte Hornets did not have a long-term running mate to pair alongside Ball. But thanks to Bridges’ massive leap, they seem to have found that (as long as they tackle restricted free agency correctly).
Bridges made the impressive leap to the 20 points per game club this year, just sneaking over the line at 20.2. He also put up 7.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 0.9 steals a night, all improvements from his junior season. The 24-year-old’s efficiency did take a bit of a hit, but that’s expected when a guy’s volume increases at the level Bridges’ did. He shot 49.1% from the field and 33.1% from deep.
His immaculate interior finishing is the best part of his game. The massive dunks are always a spectacle, and a great excuse for Eric Collins to do his thing, but they’re not even the best part. Bridges is genuinely one of the best interior finishers in the NBA. The way he manipulates his body, finishes through contact, and finds the perfect angle to lay the ball up and in is ridiculous.
Just look at these insane finishes…
Bridges has always been a solid finisher, but his increased role allowed him to take that part of his game to the next level. While there are many other areas that he can improve upon, this one is the key to him becoming one of the best forwards in the NBA. He’s truly special when it comes to finishing around the basket, and honing in on that skill is will separate Bridges from the rest of the league.
The downside to Bridges’ efficiency is his three-point shooting. To put it simply, he’s a streaky shooter. When he’s hot, he’s the metal tray restaurants bring out fajitas on, but when he’s cold, he’s the Yeti from Monster’s Inc. Again, though, when a player’s volume increases as much as Bridges’ did, this isn’t something to panic over.
That being said, as is the case with many athletic wings, nailing down the three-point shot is probably the next step for Bridges. Shooting 33.1% from deep isn’t terrible, but it’s not ideal in the modern NBA. If he can raise that number even a little bit, let’s say 37%, it would do wonders for his offensive game. Not only would the Hornets have another reliable catch-and-shoot guy next to Ball, but it would also force defenders to close out, leaving the lane wide open for Bridges to get to the hoop.
Defensively, Bridges is solid, as has always been the case. Realistically speaking, Charlotte just doesn’t have a great defensive system in place. Bridges can be thrown on the opposing team’s best player and do a stand-up job, but when the defensive scheme around him isn’t great, there’s only so much he can do.
Side note: was Bridges snubbed in the Most Improved Player voting? Maybe a little. He received three first-place votes and finished seventh in the rankings. Bridges got off to a super hot start, cooled down, and continued that trend (just like the Hornets did for most of the year). Meanwhile, other guys like Darius Garland and Ja Morant were pretty consistent all season. The award doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, but the fact that Bridges was even in the running (and got some first-place nods) says a lot about how much he improved this season.
Now, the elephant in the room is obviously free agency. Bridges is set to be a restricted free agent, as the Hornets did not give him an extension last offseason. Luckily for Charlotte, there aren’t too many teams who will have money to spend this summer. Unfortunately, a few of those teams could take a serious interest in Bridges.
The Orlando Magic, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, San Antonio Spurs, and Portland Trail Blazers will all have over $20 million in cap space. Plus, the Oklahoma City Thunder could easily clear up enough money to get there beyond. While Bridges will likely command more than that, those teams are a couple of trades away from having a max spot.
The one team that should be on Charlotte’s radar is the Pistons. Detroit is building a nice young core, and if they choose to trade Jerami Grant, Bridges would probably be an ideal replacement.
Obviously, Charlotte has the ability to match any offer Bridges receives, but it’s definitely a situation to keep an eye on. Keeping Bridges around for the long haul will be crucial, as the Hornets have just begun to solidify their young core and will be adding a new head coach this summer to lead it. Losing their second-best player would not be an ideal way to usher in a new era of Charlotte basketball.
Bridges’ 2021-22 season was one of growth and improvement. Although the Hornets weren’t able to capture the playoff experience both he and Ball desperately crave, they still have plenty of time. Bringing Bridges back will be key this summer, as if he can continue to improve at this rate, Charlotte will have one of the best duo’s in the league in no time.
P.S. It felt wrong to leave without showing at least one Bridges poster...