Charlotte Hornets

‘He’s going to get better’: How Hornets rookie Miles Bridges is adjusting to starting

Hornets’ Miles Bridges takes big questions on dunking, Flint, NBA All-Star

Miles Bridges will represent the Charlotte Hornets in the 2019 NBA All-Star dunk contest. The Observer's Mike McCray catches up with him a week before the game.
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Miles Bridges will represent the Charlotte Hornets in the 2019 NBA All-Star dunk contest. The Observer's Mike McCray catches up with him a week before the game.

Counting Monday’s 121-110 loss to the Golden State Warriors, it’s now been three games since Charlotte Hornets rookie Miles Bridges replaced Jeremy Lamb in the team’s starting lineup.

The results, understandably, have been somewhat mixed. Flashes, flaws — sometimes, both on the same play.

But the most important thing to practice as far as Bridges starting is concerned?

Patience.

“It’s new for him, of course,” wing Nic Batum reminded after the loss. “He’s going to get there. You know, we’ve all been through that.”

Take Batum, for instance. In his second career start, as a rookie for the Portland Trail Blazers back in the 2008-2009 season, he faced the same kind of offensive firepower Bridges did Monday.

“I remember when I was 19, they threw me into the lineup,” Batum said, “it took me a couple of games to adjust. I mean, the first game T-Mac (Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady) had 35 on me, so it’s an adjustment.

“But he’ll be all right.”

The hardest part is ...

Credit Batum’s memory — McGrady actually had 30 that night — but also his intuition. He knows firsthand the difficulties of being a young player tasked with stopping grown, experienced men. It can be frustrating. Nerve-wracking. But everyone goes through it at one point or another.

And really, what better learning experience than trial by fire? Batum had that as a teenager in Europe playing against significantly older, more physical players. He has said at least a dozen times how, because of that, starting as a rookie in the NBA wasn’t as much as a shock to his system as it might have been for some others.

Two years at Michigan State didn’t exactly give Bridges the same experience, but starting against the back-to-back NBA champions, with two former MVP’s and another three All-Stars?

That certainly qualifies.

“The hardest part (of joining the starting lineup) is just playing against the starters, because they’re all great players,” Bridges said. “I grew up watching Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, those guys play, and for me to play against them, my nerves are going to be rocking a little bit.”

That much was obvious, as Bridges struggled to do, well, much of anything Monday. His first layup, missed. His first points, not until midway through the third quarter. He had a first-quarter steal, but otherwise, it was a throwaway half as Durant and Klay Thompson had their way with the rookie.

“Obviously he made a few mistakes,” coach James Borrego said, “but he’s going to get better from that.”

‘There was some progress there tonight’

The good thing about Bridges, and part of the reason Borrego is trusting the rookie as a new starter, is that that improvement can come in-game.

After halftime, Bridges showed that in handfuls. His shot-making was still iffy — he finished the night 2-for-9 from the field with just seven points — but he found other ways to make a difference. Defense, rebounding, the occasional steal or interrupted passing lane.

There was a reason Borrego kept him on the court for the crucial final five minutes of the game.

“There was some progress there tonight,” Borrego said. “I think for him to feel what that game is like tonight is great for his development. This is a rookie, first time seeing the Warriors.

“I didn’t think he looked out of sorts — I think he competed.”

Still just two-thirds of the way through his rookie year, the 6-foot-7, 225-pound Bridges has already more than demonstrated why the Hornets acquired him in the first round of the 2018 NBA draft. His combination of size and quickness is as close to an NBA2K Create-A-Player as you could ask for, and his skills are fast-developing. Add a more consistent 3-point shot (currently just 31.2 percent from 3 this season), and he’d fit the bill of a prototypical wing in today’s NBA.

Borrego recognizes that potential. So do Bridges’ teammates. And while there isn’t much room for rookie mistakes on a team chasing one of the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spots — Charlotte is a half-game up on Orlando for the No. 8 seed — there is always room for a player who finds way to contribute meaningfully.

“My main assignment today was just focusing on defense, so I feel like that had me a little stagnant on offense to begin with,” Bridges said. “I just came in, focused on my assignment, and did what I had to do.”

And at this juncture in his rookie season — and the Hornets’ season overall — that’s exactly what the Hornets should be asking of Bridges.

Just don’t forget to be a little patient.

Brendan Marks is a general assignment sports reporter for the Charlotte Observer covering the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Hornets, NASCAR and more. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has worked for the Observer since August 2017.
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