Differently than what happened last season, when he spent most of his time on the floor as the second tallest player on four-out lineups, Miles Bridges has played as a wing on a full-time basis this year, in order to accommodate the many big men Tom Izzo judges worthy of playing time, with the only exception I’ve seen being the final eight minutes of the game against Southern Utah last Saturday.
Michigan State is running an offense that is mid-post oriented, with the wings getting their catches around down screens or to the elbow for hand-offs. The six-foot-seven combo forward is handling the ball 25 feet away from the basket less, hardly ever running middle high pick-and-roll, and taking more quick shots on the move than I remember being the case a year ago.
He’s gone from averaging 6.4 three-point shots per 40 minutes in 2016-2017 to 7.9 such shots in 2017-2018, while getting to the rim and to the foul line a bit less as well, though it’s worth pointing out that Bridges missed two games with an ankle sprain a month ago, so it’s possible the injury affected or is affecting his shot selection.
As a full-time perimeter defender, the 19-year-old has been able to show that, while it’s unlikely he’ll be an elite stopper at the next level, he has enough lateral quickness to handle more than a few matchups against smaller players, aside from being able to execute the scheme as a weak-side defender.
Bridges has also impressed with his activity lately, following the example of teammate Jaren Jackson, Jr. by looking to challenge everything he is close by over the last few games. His defensive box plus-minus is 30% higher than it was last season.
Michigan State has played almost all of its minutes with two true big men on the floor, so Bridges has consistently been assigned to defend true perimeter players.
He’s shown he can be quick enough to play such a role, proving himself able to slide laterally and stay in front of lighter players such as Grayson Allen, Gary Trent, Jr. and Theo Pinson in isolation, though it’s somewhat disappointing to see him not using the strength in his 230-pound frame to contain dribble penetration more often.
Bridges is too big to navigate over ball-screens and depends on his big teammate to recover back to his man in a timely manner. But he’s been able to do a better job chasing shooters around down screens when he’s focused and can closeout, run the shooter off the line and stay in front off the dribble when he is on his best effort.
His most impactful work has been executing the scheme, though. Bridges has been fairly reliable rotating off the weak-side to pick up the roll man and can leap off two feet explosively to contest shots at the basket or contribute on the defensive glass – averaging 2.2 blocks per 40 minutes and collecting 16.5% of opponents’ misses when he’s been on the floor this season.
Bridges is doing the bulk of his work catching the ball off screens. He’s taking a lot of quick shots on the move without being able to set his feet and his percentages show he is not yet a good enough shooter for the types of shots he’s taken this season – as he’s nailed just 31% of his 29 mid-range jumpers and 34% of his 50 three-point shots.
His release seems somewhat quicker and more fluid but the lefty remains a fair more capable shooter on corner threes when he has plenty of time to set his feet than when he is forced to rush through his mechanics, though he has proven himself able to make some of these more difficult shots from time to time and it doesn’t seem out of the question he could develop into that level of shooter down the line.
His 89.5% foul shooting certainly brings more reason for optimism than last season´s 68.5% mark, though it’ s fair to point out it’s been achieved on just 19 attempts.
 Who only turns 20 next March
Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara