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Situational Analysis: Miles Bridges

Mon, 06/18/2018 - 2:59pm

"Situational Analysis" is a series of articles that seeks to examine the circumstances that most often influence an NBA prospect's success. Each player will be scored on a scale from 1-10 in four different categories: NBA-specific skill(s), fatal flaw(s), collegiate/overseas/pre-NBA environment, and ideal NBA ecosystem.

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Miles Bridges is a 20-year-old wing from Flint, Michigan, who averaged 17.1 points, 7 rebounds and 2.7 assists for the Michigan State Spartans. Bridges declared for the NBA Draft on March 28 and is expected to be selected in the late lottery to mid-first round. NBADraft.net currently has him projected to go No. 15.

NBA-Specific Skills

Miles BridgesMiles BridgesIs "controlled explosiveness" a thing? If it is, Miles Bridges has it.

It's rare to see a player with the kind of athleticism to leap through, over, and around almost any defender in his path. It's rarer still to see a player who knows how to deploy that athleticism at the right moments, while maintaining complete body control in the air.

Players blessed with this kind of hops and quicks can often play with a reckless abandon, seeking YouTube-worthy dunks at the expense of team offensive concepts. Bridges is in a class of his own athletically, but he never seems to be playing his own game. He operates within the framework of a basketball game, and occasionally busts out of it by dunking on an opponent's entire bloodline.

But it isn't necessarily the dunks that make Bridges an interesting NBA prospect. It's what his controlled explosiveness could mean on the other end of the floor.

As NBA defenses become more reliant on switching and versatility, a player with Bridges' measurables, quickness, and physical strength becomes even more valuable than he did in years prior. He can conceivably move his feet well enough to stay in front of most guards, while using his core strength and leaping ability to body up players taller and heavier than himself.

Think PJ Tucker/pre-injury Demarre Carroll, with some optimistic projections into fellow Spartan Draymond Green territory.

The league has tilted in Bridges favor. Ten years ago, he's a "tweener" without a definable position. Today, he's a Swiss Army knife who can thrive in any conceivable matchup. On a scale from 1 (Joe Alexander) to 10 (Draymond Green), Bridges' athleticism and defensive versatility projects at an 8.5.

Fatal Flaws

In his two years at Michigan State, Bridges has also shown a willingness to take and make long-range jumpers. He is best described as a streak shooter at this point in his career, but Bridges has had to work on straightening out his fundamentals into something consistent and repeatable.

His 3-point percentage dropped a tick between his freshman and sophomore seasons, but I'm more encouraged by the noticeable leap in his free-throw percentage — from a subpar 68.5 as a freshman to a terrific 85.3 as a junior. Some still question whether his jumper can extend beyond the NBA 3-point arc and whether his low release point will impact his ability to get clean looks against NBA defenders, but the drastic improvement at the line shows that he is willing to put in the work.

Bridges' biggest issue, however, comes when he puts the ball on the floor. He is not the smoothest ball handler and will likely never become any team's primary or secondary creator. His NBA destiny will hinge on whether he can take a limited number of hard dribbles to free himself on close-outs and make quick decisions with the ball.

If Bridges tries to extend himself beyond the ideal framework for his game, he could become a turnover machine that bogs down his team's offense. Playing within himself will be key to his professional success.

On a scale from 1 (Joey Graham) to 10 (Danny Green in the 2013 Finals), Bridges' need to find his NBA lane and stay in it rests at a 7.

Pre-NBA Setting

"Draft stock" is a funny, fickle thing.

Bridges was a consensus top-10 player in his recruiting class before arriving at Michigan State. His stock continued to rise after a terrific freshman campaign. He appeared to be a lottery lock.

Much to the surprise of college basketball fans and NBA draft enthusiasts, he elected to return for his sophomore year. Bridges and those around him would tell you he is a much better basketball player now than he was a year ago, but his name now exists on the fringes of the lottery on most big boards, with some even rating him closer to 20 than to 10.

Bridges fought an unfair fight against expectation for much of sophomore season. Many prominent outlets expected a major leap from Bridges, with some even picking him as the preseason player of the year. It was a "title or bust" type of atmosphere around the Spartans, thanks to Bridges and a loaded recruiting class.

But while his game is more developed, his stats plateaued. He didn't dominate in ways that many expected him to. Fair or unfair, that's how it goes in the evaluation game.

Bridges was no longer the "fresh, new prospect" driving the hype machine. Draft writers moved onto young Kevin Knox and the accomplished Mikal Bridges. Miles got a little lost in the shuffle.

Of course, very little of this has anything to do with his abilities as a basketball player. It's just strange to watch a prospect's "stock" rise and fall without much rhyme or reason.

On a scale from 1 (Ben Simmons at LSU) to 10 (Gordon Hayward going from a lightly recruited 3-star guard to nearly hitting the greatest shot in college basketball history as a sophomore playing under Brad Stevens), Bridges' time at Michigan State rates at an 8 for his basketball skills, but a 5 for his draft stock. Weird.

Ideal NBA Ecosystem

NBADraft.net currently has Bridges going to the Washington Wizards at 15, where he could potentially become a calmer, steadier version of the Morris brother they currently employ. The Denver Nuggets at No. 14 make a great deal of sense, given their abysmal defensive numbers and their need for young, athletic legs on the wing.

Bridges fits a lot of what the Bucks have tried to build — roster-wise, if not stylistically — at 17, and I like the fit of Bridges and Mike Budenholzer.

One of my favorite spots for him, however, is Philadelphia at No. 10. Robert Covington is exactly the type of player Bridges hopes to be, and I love the idea of those two going at each other in practice.

Every team needs the idealized version of what Miles Bridges could become in the NBA. But it's all about which team is the best bet to help him get there.

On a scale from 1 (basically anyone unfortunate enough to be selected by the Sacramento Kings over the last handful of years) to 10 (Donovan Mitchell landing in Utah and immediately becoming the face of the franchise), Bridges' situational dependence is a 7. He fits almost anywhere, but he'll thrive on a team with a switch-heavy defensive mindset and a coach who values versatility.

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