Early into the Chicago Bulls offseason, John Paxson stated the obvious by saying they will be looking at upgrading at the wing position in the draft. It makes sense given Justin Holiday is one of the older players on this team and eventually getting better at the 3 position is necessary. The draft board looks heavy on bigs at the top, but after that there are a lot of wings, and one of them is Michigan State’s Miles Bridges.
Bridges played two years with the Spartans, making the decision to come back for his sophomore year after being projected as a lottery pick in last year’s draft. He still put up very solid numbers for Michigan State as he averaged 17.1 points with a TS% of 57.2 while pulling down 7 rebounds per game, but his stock overall has plateaued. During his two seasons in East Lansing, Bridges showed he has the tools of being a very productive player in the NBA.
Bridges was a very good offensive player for the Spartans, registering a 5.7 offensive box plus/minus last year. He’s a great athlete while also offering up some shooting presence from the wing. He can score at all three levels of the court, making him an interesting offensive prospect to say the least.
Last year Bridges shot 35.9% from NBA three-point range (via the Stepien) and it was good enough to be in the 56th percentile among wings. In today’s NBA you can never have too much shooting and Bridges offers just that. He can be a solid kick out option in the corner. Bridges is in no way the ultimate shooter but he will at least be a good enough of a threat to make defenses respect him. That alone could help a Bulls offense in spreading the floor. It will open up better driving lanes for the likes of Markkanen, Zach LaVine, and Kris Dunn.
Bridges has a really nice midrange game, making him a good pick and roll option both as the ball handler and screener. Bridges could easily pop out for an open jump shot or even take a couple of steps in to knock it down if the defense runs him off the three-point line. As we know the midrange jumper isn’t the most efficient offensive weapon to have, but being good at it is better than the alternative.
He also shot 64.35% at the rim and is an explosive athlete, able to attack closeouts quickly with his speed and uses his athleticism and craftiness to score at the hoop. Obviously, you would like to see better finishing numbers, but he showed flashes of amazing skill. It’s going to be really hard for defenders to contest him when he’s getting a full head of steam towards the basket.
Off a broken play Bridges gets the ball on the right wing. He initially catches the ball and then waits for the Iowa big man to come rushing towards him. Then in one quick step he goes right by the defender and towards the hoop. Bridges then goes up for a layup but gets hit on the shoulder as he’s elevating. But it doesn’t stop him as he’s able to absorb the contact while being able to still finish the shot with his left hand. It was a good move and it was impressive to see him hang in the air and get the bucket.
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Again Bridges is able to attack another closeout in route to a fantastic finish. After a kick-out pass from Jaren Jackson Jr. Bridges catches the pass and immediately goes right by two Iowa defenders. Then when he gets to the right block he is met by a Iowa defender who dropped down to help on the drive. Bridges then jumps away from the defender and towards the rim. He does a good job of shielding the ball from getting blocked by using an up and under move in front of the rim. The sequence gets capped off by Bridges gliding the ball off the backboard and into the net.
Averaging 5.7 defensive rebounds per game, Bridges led Michigan State as one of the top rebounders on the team. His total rebounds per game averaged was second highest while his offensive rebounds were third. Given his height and leaping ability, it wasn’t a surprise to see Bridges put up decent numbers on the glass. His leaping ability also aids in his rim protection as he can get up and meet guys at the summit if they find a driving lane against the Bulls defense.
Another positive on defense has been Bridge’s ability to switch and defend everyone from guards to stretch-forwards. When Bridges switches onto a smaller player, it isn’t that big of a disadvantage as his lateral speed is good enough to stay in front and not get blown by. Against bigger opponents, his big frame allows him to not get overpowered. Given the landscape in the NBA where the majority of defenses now switch everything, having a guy who can guard four positions is precious.
A good shooter from distance and a guy who can play anywhere on defense, Bridges sets up as a “3 and D” wing, a type of player the Bulls could desperately use. The driving ability and finishing at the rim needs improvement but he has the physical tools to succeed. However, there are much bigger flaws in his game which he needs to improve.
Offensively, Bridges is a solid three-point shooter but his midrange is a lot better. It could be troublesome with the way NBA offenses are more prone to shooting from downtown more. When he does shoot threes, Bridges is a lot better spotting-up than he is off the dribble or even coming off screens. This is something which could hinder just how effective he could be in an NBA offense. Shooting off the dribble is a very valuable skill for any player and it really adds an element to their game. Whether it’s off a screen or when you are stopping on a dime to pull up for a midrange jumper, having the ability to rise up and put the ball in the basket at any time puts defenses off-balance. Bridges currently doesn’t have the skill and it’s extremely hard for any player to develop it as time goes on. Due to this, Bridges would be better off as a driver if he has to move with the basketball. But this will come with negatives as teams will know this and try and force him to shoot off the dribble. While Bridges can still be a good player on offense, he will be limited by the lack of efficiency when it comes to his lack of a off the dribble game.
It always helps to have as many ball handlers on the floor and it’s an even bigger boost when said guys can be playmakers. Bridges isn’t that type of player. He averaged 3.1 assists per game while at Michigan State and sometimes took bad shots when there were better options available. It always hinders an offense when the ball handler doesn’t always look around to see if teammates are open. If he does develop even a bit of playmaking ability, it could go a long way in making him a more complete offensive player. One hopeful scenario is given how his situation at Michigan State (the guy), he had to take a lot of shots. It won’t be the same case in the NBA, especially on Chicago. Bridges would be lower in the pecking order and won’t have to force up shots to generate offense for them.
Bridges has concerns when it comes to his off-ball defense. He can fall asleep at times and tends to get caught ball-watching, allowing his man to easily get away from him. It can affect parts of how he plays defense as a whole because if he isn’t alert, he won’t be able to react quickly to the movement caused by some offenses. Zach LaVine has the same problems, and if you have both Bridges and LaVine on the court the Bulls will be in trouble. There is a slight positive in that this can be fixed. It’s not like Bridges isn't athletic or physical enough to play defense. He’s fine in those areas and when he’s engaged he guard multiple positions exceptionally well.
Fit with the Bulls:
On Chicago, Bridges would be the future at the 3 spot, perhaps coming off the bench to start the season but eventually replacing Justin Holiday. Bridges would bring a lot of defensive versatility (including small-ball 4) to a Bulls side which is desperately in need. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Bulls in the future run more small-ball lineups with Lauri Markkanen at the 5. He certainly can play center in those situations but Chicago really needs a front court partner for Markkanen in those scenarios. Bridges would be a great fit there. Both of them can space the floor with their shooting and could be at least competent defensively against other smaller front courts. This will tremendously help a Bulls defense which lacks solid perimeter defenders other than Dunn.
At the very minimum Bridges could be a great spark off the bench and will be a great option for spot up opportunities. He’d also be a candidate for some great putback dunks as his leap could catch defenders off guard. The overall team rebounding would get a boost as well.
There is a very good chance Bridges will still be available when the Bulls are there at No.7. He is projected to go in the early teens but if Chicago wants to take a reach and choose a wing, he’s going to be there. By choosing Bridges they would be choosing a prospect with high upside and could have a future as a small-ball 4. The question is who will they be passing up in order to draft him.