Miles Bridges’ selling point in the lead-up to the NBA draft was how defensively versatile he could be.
He hasn’t even played a summer-league game yet, and the Charlotte Hornets’ first-round forward has guarded anyone and everyone in two days of practice.
“I’ve guarded 1-through-5 (point guard to center). Every time my man screens, I’ve switched everything,” said Bridges, the 12th overall pick last month. “(Defense) was pretty easy for me in college, but it’s hard to guard everybody.”
At 6-foot-7, Bridges guarded both small and power forwards in his two seasons at Michigan State. He lost about 20 pounds in the months between the end of the college season and the draft at the suggestion of some NBA front-office executives. That will aid his quickness and defensive range.
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Defensive switching, to counteract screen-and-rolls, is a big trend in the NBA these days. The Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics are particularly adept at the strategy, but every team is adopting it to some extent.
It is certainly something new Hornets coach James Borrego is instituting, and he sees Bridges as an asset heading in that direction.
“That versatility – that ability to stay in front (of a ball-handler) - it keeps us at home (defensively), it limits rotations” looking to contain elite scorers, Borrego said.
“In the NBA nowadays, teams are so spread out with shooting and athleticism and the ability to get to the rim, that when you can switch pick-and-roll – screening action – it allows you to stay home. So, a player like Miles or a player like (Dwayne) Bacon allows us to do that.”
Bridges is a willing talker on the court, which isn’t always the case with rookies. That’s important to this strategy.
“You’ve got to communicate the switch,” Borrego said. “I think he’s a little bit unsure right now. He’ll say, ‘Coach, you sure you want me to switch every possession?’ And I (shout) ‘Yes, I do!’
“You’ve got to get comfortable in that world, and I like what I’m seeing from Miles.”
The defense figured to come naturally, based on Bridges’ strengths at Michigan State. Offensive versatility is more a project. He’s a good jump-shooter, but he didn’t create many free-throw opportunities with the Spartans.
With so many NBA players possessing great shooting range, it’s harder for defenses to load up in the lane. The Hornets need Bridges to get better at attacking that.
“My spacing on the floor, my decision-making. He’s putting me all over the floor,” Bridges said of Borrego’s coaching.
“There’s more space on the floor, so I’m trying to show I can get to the basket.”