The college basketball season is (unofficially) underway as top teams have begun playing preseason scrimmages, and perhaps no freshman NBA prospect was more dominant in his debut than Michigan State combo forward Miles Bridges. Bridges went for 33 points, eight boards, four blocks and three assists in 29 minutes on the floor.
It wasn’t just the fact that Bridges put up those numbers against Division II Northwood, but the efficiency of which he did it in. The talented, five-star forward shot 12 of 14 from the field and nailed all five shots from deep, perhaps Bridges’ biggest question mark as an NBA prospect. Bridges did all of this within Izzo’s diverse offensive sets, which only made this effort even more impressive.
“(Bridges) did it all within the framework of what (we were) doing,” Izzo said after the game. “He looked very smooth and very comfortable. We posted him some. We put him at the 3 (small forward) some, let him handle the ball some. He fit into what we said we were going to do with him and he handled that very, very well.”
His versatility is what will make him such a dominant presence throughout the rest of this season for Michigan State, and with knee injuries to senior big men Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter, Bridges will be asked to play a lot of small-ball power forward (a la Justise Winslow for Duke in ‘14). Bridges’ ball handling ability has been a question mark as he’s likely to play on the perimeter at the next level, but he’s shown promise in that area; Izzo’s played him at point guard in a pinch in practice.
Bridges already has a strong base of NBA-ready size and athleticism for either forward position, standing 6’6.25” with a near-6’9” wingspan. Bridges’ lateral quickness should allow him to defend four positions at the NBA-level in time, and his ability to sky for rebounds is special. Not only does he have the physical characteristics of an NBA player, but he’s underrated in his understanding of the game and brings a good attitude on and off the court as well.
“He’s a manchild,” Northwood coach Jeff Rekeweg said. “That kid, he’s not a kid – he’s a man. His understanding of the game and just the way he carries himself, it’s beyond any freshman that I’ve seen before.”
I first wrote about Bridges shortly after the 2015 draft, and noted that he “needs to continue refining his ball skills as he moves forward in his basketball career.” It seems like he’s made some serious strides both as a playmaker and shooter, which will do wonders for his NBA career.
“I love assists way more than I love points,” Bridges said. “And I love to see my teammates succeed more than I do. … I just want to get my teammates involved because that gets me going, too.”
Mock drafts have had Bridges in the late-first round range during the preseason; DraftExpress has him 26th overall, NBADraft.net at 24th, and Chad Ford had him 24th in Mock Draft 1.0 (though he has moved up to 13th in his most recent Big Board). I could really see him rising throughout this season considering his elite athletic attributes and two-way potential.
While it’s been just one scrimmage into his college career, an effort like this is still eye-opening in a debut. There’s no doubt Bridges will be the center of everything Michigan State does this year, especially considering the injury situation. If he’s able to keep up his production and versatile play, there’s no doubt he’ll be at least a lottery pick and possible top-0ten pick next June.