Villanova's Mikal Bridges: Charlotte Hornets' style would be a good fit for him
This was former Villanova star Mikal Bridges' first team workout before the NBA draft, and it was with the Charlotte Hornets, who have a new general manager and coach.
Fortunately for Bridges, a 6-7 guard-forward, he anticipated that general manager Mitch Kupchak and coach James Borrego would push the limits of Bridge's conditioning. Late in the hour-long session, with only Bridges and St. Joseph's James Demery participating, the Hornets interspersed full-court sprints with sessions of long-range shooting.
Nothing exotic as pre-draft workouts go, but it had the intended effect.
"They pushed us," Bridges said. "I’m really well conditioned and they (wanted to see him) shoot the ball while I’m tired. (It was about) showing them everything, like some ballhandling that they didn’t see" from him in college.
Bridges is a candidate for the Hornets' 11th overall pick, if he lasts that long in the June 21 draft. He figures to start being a factor in this draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers' No. 8 pick, or the New York Knicks at 9 or Philadelphia 76ers at 10.
Bridges' size and shooting ability — he made 43.5 percent of his attempts last season from the college 3-point line — would have value in any NBA era. But the way the NBA is currently trending — toward an emphasis on players with the defensive versatility to constantly switch who they guard — adds to Bridges' value.
Think of how constantly the Golden State Warriors switched defensively in Game 1 of the NBA Finals Thursday, looking to minimize the advantage in Cleveland Cavaliers pick-and-rolls. Midsize players who can guard a wide spectrum of players, plus stretch the floor with their shooting ability, are all the rage in the NBA. It's why, for instance, former Duke player Jayson Tatum was a top-3 pick a year ago.
"I take a lot of pride in my defense: it's what I do best," Bridges said. "We switched 1-through-4 (point guard-to-power forward) and sometimes 1-through-5 (center). It comes to my advantage to switch on everybody and really use my length."
The Hornets have a fine midsize defender in small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. However, Kidd-Gilchrist took only two 3s last season (making neither) and has attempted 36 total 3s in his first six NBA seasons. The Hornets shot a good 3-point percentage last season (7th at 37.2 percent), but were in the bottom third of the 30-team league in 3s attempted and 3s as a percentage of total shots.
Sometimes, when a player is a prolific shooter from the college 3-point line, it's a difficult adjustment to the NBA line, which is as much as three feet farther from the basket at 23 feet, 9 inches.
The Hornets opened only the end of Saturday's workout to the media, but it was obvious, after those full-court sprints, that Bridges was comfortable shooting outside the NBA line.
"Especially last year, I'd shoot a little farther back," Bridges said of Villanova's run to the national championship. "Just working out — where you make five (3s) from each spot — I'd do it NBA" length.
Bridges said it's important to him not just to be viewed as a catch-and-shoot player, based on his seasons at Villanova, but as someone who can create plays off the dribble and in transition.
At 210 pounds, Bridges knows he's slim by NBA standards and will need to add muscle. He spent four years at Villanova, redshirting before a three-season run that included two national championships.
He makes sure to note those championships as more than incidental to his draft value.
"I know what it takes; it's hard to win a championship, you've got to put a lot of things aside," Bridges said. "I know what it takes and I can bring that to another culture."