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Miles Bridges has long developed a reputation as one of the league’s most athletic high-flyers in his two seasons with the Hornets. It’s not a shock, then, that the moment LaMelo Ball stepped onto the practice court in Charlotte, he pin-pointed Bridges as his lob target.
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The pairing has already produced a number of highlights this preseason. No player has assisted Bridges more than Ball at four times. Three of those have been alley-oops and the one that wasn’t was perhaps Ball’s best pass of the preseason, a behind-the-back one in transition.
“The connection with me and Melo, it just clicked right away,” Bridges said. “As soon as he came here and it was our first practice, he just told me he’s going throw it up to me wherever. It’s been great.”
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Ball and Bridges’ impact on the court together hasn’t simply been through alley-oops. Through the first three preseason games, the two have played together for 35 minutes, accounting for over half of each of Ball (62) and Bridges (60) total minutes.
Albeit in a small sample size, when sharing the court this preseason, Ball and Bridges have a 113.3 offensive rating, a 92.8 defensive rating and a net rating of 20.5. Compared to Ball’s -50.0 net rating with Bridges not alongside him and Bridges -3.7 net rating in the same scenario, it’s a noteworthy stat and one head coach James Borrego has taken notice of.
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“I like those two and pick and roll,” he said. “I really do. That’s on me to get them involved more and pick and roll, especially in transition. You know, when Melo comes off and transition and Miles is flying into that early drag pick and roll and he just slips out of there and gets to the rim, that’s a tough cover in transition. It’s a lot of pressure on the rim with Melo getting downhill, Miles rolling to the rim. That’s on me to get that more apart of our offense moving forward.”
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Borrego’s decision not to move Bridges into the starting lineup to replace the injured Gordon Hayward in the team’s third preseason game could be at least partially tied to keeping Bridges in his current role alongside Ball.
As a player who has operated heavily in the pick and roll in his brief professional career, having a teammate like Bridges as a running mate in those scenarios is a huge bonus for Ball. His versatility as a roller to the rim or pick-and-pop threat is unlike any big Ball has played with before.
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It very well could be a big part of the team and their personal futures. But for now, at the very least, it will continue to provide plenty of highlight-reel alley-oops and dunks.
As Miles Bridges enters his third year in the league, his role on the Charlotte Hornets has never been more precarious. Questions abound as the signing of Gordon Hayward and the evolving Hornets offense may be signs that Bridges style doesn’t fit the new look squad. However, Miles has also shown an affinity to destroy rims like they insulted his mother. So, as we preview the 2020-21 season and what it might hold for Miles Bridges, let’s take a drive down memory lane and remember the dunks that got us here and what they might say about the future.
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The Problem Dunk
The Problem Dunk may be the best Miles Bridges dunk of all time. The baseline move, the transition from catch to liftoff, the cock-back with gravitational pull, then finally the knockout slam that tilts the earth off its axis. The reason it’s called The Problem Dunk is two fold. The first reason being that this is during Miles’ rookie season and, as the Hawk’s Dwayne Dedmon found out first hand, his dunks were going to be a problem for opposing teams.
However, the other reason this is The Problem Dunk is what preceded it. A wide open look from the corner that bricks off the rim. In his first two seasons, Miles has averaged 32.8% from beyond the arc. In order for Borrego’s style of pace and space offense to run with efficiency, the Hornet’s forwards have to be a threat from deep. Bridges, to continue to be a problem in the air, must be able to pull his defender to the 3-point line to guard him. The good news is that his 3-point attempts doubled from his first to second years, the bad news is that his accuracy never improved about 33%.
Call this the quarantine dunk because all the Pistons around Miles are standing a socially distant 6 feet away from him as he demolishes the rim. The Hornets ranked 21st in the league in transition points in 2019. In an offense that puts an emphasis on increasing pace and scoring that number has to go up. If Miles wants to keep his starting spot and role on this team, it is these types of plays that will keep him there.
The Hornets spent 120 million dollars on Gordon Hayward during the offs-season. Hayward plays the small forward position, and his acquisition can be seen as a direct threat to Bridges’ playing time and development. However, Hayward plays the position very differently. Miles averages about two assists per game, while Gordon averages four. Hayward is more of an offensive facilitator while Bridges is more of a finisher. There’s a way for both to exist on the same court and thrive.
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The TKO dunk
The TKO dunk has happened a few times in Bridges’ career. Firstly, this particular dunk was his third of the night; three knockouts equal a TKO. But most importantly, what it illustrates is the passion and ferocity with which Miles plays. My JV basketball coach used to call it, “The Want To.” He seems to bring energy to every play he’s involved in. There are echoes of this, kindred spirits in the league who play on that level: Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin, PJ Tucker just to name a few. They bring the emotion of the game up; the best bring their team along with them. If Miles Bridges can unlock that, where he can transfer his passion, his “want to” to his teammates, then he can unlock another part of his potential
Maybe more than anyone else on the Hornets, Miles Bridges needs to pick a path in the 2020-21 season. Will he be the highlight reel forward who comes off the bench to ignite a second unit on the floor> Or will he increase his three-point accuracy, become a more aware passer, and ascend to that next level of player. That level where it doesn’t matter what Butler alum the team decides to overpay, the Hornets would be foolish to leave him on the bench.
Let me leave you with one last dunk, one against the defending champs; one to grow on: