Miles Bridges was hyped up as one of Tom Izzo’s best recruits of all-time entering this season and he surely lived up to that preseason buzz during the 2016-’17 campaign.
The freshman forward was electric during this past season for Michigan State. In fact, he was so good that he’ll now, most likely, be hanging up his Spartan uniform to head to the NBA.
Bridges led the Spartans in scoring and rebounds with 16.9 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. He also finished one point shy of the all-time scoring record for a Michigan State freshman and five rebounds shy of the freshman record for rebounds in school history. Both of those records would have been his, had he not missed seven games due to an injury.
Outside of the numbers, he was simply a human highlight reel. His ability to hit the three in a defender’s face and then follow it up with a massive dunk on the next possession is why so many NBA officials are watering at the mouth for Bridges.
Currently, Bridges is considered a lottery pick by many including DraftExpress, who currently has Bridges going to the Charlotte Hornets with the No. 11 overall pick in its latest mock draft. However, this is only if Bridges decides to forgo his final three seasons of eligibility and enter the NBA Draft. The latest reports say he is conflicted.
Chris Solari of The Detroit Free Press reported yesterday that Bridges’ mother, Cynthia Bridges, believes he hasn’t made his mind up yet on entering the draft.
“I don't think he's made a decision yet on whether to stay or to go,” Cynthia Bridges told Solari over the phone.
So, there’s still a glimmer of hope for Spartan fans that he’ll return. It appears from reports that Bridges is conflicted because he enjoys playing with his Spartan teammates and loves how Izzo coaches him up.
However, the choice between making millions of dollars or sitting in classroom next fall seems like a no-brainer to me. Nonetheless, at least there’s still some hope for the Spartans in getting to see Bridges back in his No. 22 Spartan jersey next season.
In the end the odds are Bridges will be a one-and-done so let’s take a look at how his game breaks down for the NBA.
Bridges appears to be the perfect small forward in the NBA. To start, he has the overall athletic ability to player and experience success at the next level. As I mentioned in the intro, Bridges was a human highlight reel this year. That not only included his many dunks, but also his ability to rebound and block a number of shots — he also was tied as the team leader in blocks.
Outside of his pure athletic ability, Bridges developed a more-consistent shot throughout his freshman campaign. The 6-foot-7 forward was dogged for his jumper entering the season, but he proved to be better than expected. He finished the season shooting 48.6% from the field and 38.9% from three — which ranked second on the team — hitting two from outside the arc per game.
Last, but not least, is Bridges’ dedication to the game and being coachable. Many times this year you heard Izzo call him a “Blue-Collar Superstar” and recently talked about his knack for wanting to always improve his game.
“It’s been a blessing to coach him. It’s fun to coach a blue-collar superstar,” Izzo said in a recent Lansing State Journal article. “It’s fun to coach a guy you can coach and get on. He's coming into my office, ‘You gotta push me harder.’ That’s no problem, brother, let’s go. It’s fun to coach those kinda guys.”
That dedication to improving his game will be extremely important as we now take a look at some of his weaknesses.
There aren’t a whole lot of glaring weaknesses in Bridges’ game, but there are certainly some areas for improvement.
Bridges’ jumper and three-point shot was solid this year, but there is still room for growth. In particular, he could prove on his consistency. For example, the Maryland game to end the regular season comes to mind, where he finished 4-for-11 from three.
Piggybacking off that are Bridges’ decisions to settle for an outside shot too often. In almost every game this year, he was the best athlete on the floor but he wouldn’t always utilize that ability by settling for contested jumpers instead of driving to the rim. Izzo would get on his case about that and he would normally respond with a drive to the rack but Izzo shouldn’t have to get on him for this. Knowing the best trait of your game is key moving forward for Bridges.
One final area of concern is Bridges’ poor performance at the free throw line. He shot 68.5% from the charity stripe this season, which isn’t terrible but isn’t going to cut it at the next level. This is an easy fix of course if he just devotes time to improving this area of his game.
When you’re projected to be a lottery pick, the strengths outweigh the weaknesses and that’s the case with Bridges. He has the size and tools to become an excellent wing at the next level, and I’m anticipating that’ll begin next season.
There is still a chance he comes back for another year at Michigan State, which could help his draft stock. The Spartans will have more depth in the post next year and Bridges will get to play his more natural position on the wing rather than in the post. So that’s one selling point for Izzo to get him to come back.
However, Bridges is ready to play at the next level and if he does leave he will probably be the first Big Ten player selected in June. And from that point on, expect to hear his name in the NBA for years to come.