Miles Bridges, the high flying sophomore from Michigan State, spent a second year with Tom Izzo in East Lansing with dreams of a title run (and maybe improving his draft stock some). He seemed to really enjoy his time as a Spartan, wanted to prove to everyone around him that his freshman season wasn’t a fluke, and that he could take on the role of primary playmaker.
It remains to be seen if he did anything to improve last summer’s draft stock, but what is clear is Miles Bridges is a proven talent with a clear role in today’s NBA. The team that drafts him will get a player ready to contribute day one. Not to mention, he’ll provide some highlight reel dunks along the way.
Measuring in at just under 6’7, 220 pounds, with a 6’9.5 wingspan at the Combine in May, Bridges has an NBA frame prepared to take on the rigors of the pro schedule. In his sophomore season Bridges averaged 17 points, seven rebounds, and almost three assists per game, shooting 36 percent from deep. He led the Spartans in points and minutes, was a consensus 2nd Team All-American, and was the go-to leader for a team that went 30-5 on the season but underachieved in the tournament.
At the next level, his athleticism and explosive playmaking in transition might be what gets him initial playing time. But it’s Bridges’ versatility, that he showcased in two seasons at MSU -- and which has become the calling card of elite NBA wings — that will cement his spot in a winning rotation.
Miles Bridges is explosive. If given a straight line to the basket in the half court, or space in transition, few college players had the kind of athleticism and leaping ability that Bridges put on display over the last two seasons. Similar to high flying Texas Tech freshman Zhaire Smith, Bridges made a living cleaning up the offensive glass and making posters of a long list of big men.
In his freshman season Bridges played mostly at the four, allowing him to exploit mismatches from the outside-in. Often beating slower defenders off the dribble, or bodying undersized wings down low, leveraging his frame and athleticism will be key at the next level. An elite cutter, with a good sense to find the open space in the floor, Bridges will be best used in a similar capacity as a pro — screening and slashing in to open space, and popping out to the wings.
His sophomore season saw him play almost exclusively at the three, perhaps to provide more angles in his primary role, but also to make space for Jaren Jackson Jr. in the lineup (even though Bridges should have been playing four, and Jackson five, but that’s another conversation entirely). Even in his new leadership role, Bridges’ usage stayed the same. In fact there was little variance in most major statistical categories. As Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer points out, “His draft stock has been more stable than most players who return to school. Prospects usually either improve and take on a bigger role on their college team...or they stagnate and scouts pick them apart...Miles found the middle ground.”
Where Bridges did see improvement was from the free throw line. After shooting a questionable 68 percent from the line his freshman year, provoking critics to doubt his outside shot, Bridges bounced back this season to shoot 85 percent on 17 more attempts. That kind of focus on improvement is a positive sign. He shot 37 percent from deep over his two seasons, excelling shooting from the wings this season (hitting 41 percent on 70 attempts), where he’ll be asked to spot up from in catch and shoot situations.
Defensively his biggest asset will be his versatility. He has the quickness to switch out on the perimeter, and the mass to take on mid sized post players. His shot blocking numbers were nearly cut in half in his second season, but that can be attributed to his position change (and playing next to the best shot blocker in college basketball this season). In a positionless league, focused on switch-heavy defensive schemes, his high energy activity inside and out will be valuable.
Even though the NBA is full of positionless tweeners that have more value than ever before, there should be some questions about Bridges’ ability to play the stretch four at not quite 6’7; and more troubling, the +2.75 wingspan. Much of his success on both ends was founded in his superior athleticism. The league is full of super athletes, and super athletes with elite wingspan. Will Bridges have the same versatility in the NBA if he doesn’t have the length to match up?
Miles Bridges won’t be expected to create at the level he was tasked with this season. But if he does take that on in short stints, he’ll need to improve his ball handling and vision. He does a solid job of exploiting bad close outs and flat footed big men, but is mostly effective in straight line drives and only off a dribble or two. Moving through traffic he can get a little sloppy with his handle, and loses some vision to the corners.
Most players that rely so much on athleticism at the college level have trouble adjusting to the NBA. But with Bridges’ hustle and basketball IQ, he should be able to adapt, even if it takes some time. But the polish on his game now means he’ll be able to contribute in some way very quickly.
Fit with the Mavericks
Readers of previous pieces know that I was high on Bridges last summer, and wanted the Mavs to draft him at the nine spot last year had he entered the draft. The Mavericks are in desperate need of wings that can play at both forward spots interchangeably, someone to pair along side Harrison Barnes who can switch back and forth from possession to possession. Bridges would be that guy. Rick Carlisle could throw Barnes and Bridges out there together, only concerned with player to player opponent matchups.
Miles wasn’t used enough as the screener in pick and roll situations in college, but with the Mavericks he could be the key cog in that action. He has the mass and IQ to screen well, and can hit a three in space, or be a high flyer next to Dennis Smith Jr. at the rim. That would be a deadly duo.
Bridges doesn’t infringe on Barnes’ offense, primarily because he can fit in to a catch and shoot, baseline slasher roll. Bridges doesn’t have the defensive prowess of Shawn Marion, but he could be used similar to Marion in the offense, because his IQ in space is so high.
If the Mavs fall in love with Miles Bridges in this pre-draft process, they should consider trading back to a better value range, to hopefully tack on some assets in the process. With that, they would have Dennis Smith Jr. and two dynamic forwards to be the foundation of the future.
Miles Bridges is an accumulation of a lot of different styles. On his base level, he has build of guys like Justise Winslow and Jae Crowder. He doesn’t have Crowder’s one on one defensive ability, but he will slip in to a similar role when he first gets to the league.
If his offense expands, Bridges could show flashes of Tobias Harris, who has grown as an outside shooter the last few seasons. If Bridges can shore up some of his ball handling, that’s an easy role to see him take on. And then at his most elite, if his playmaking grows, he could stylistically remind some of Jerry Stackhouse. It would be unwise to expect similar production. But Stackhouse’s style is in Miles Bridges somewhere deep down.