Miles Bridges Scouting Report

(First posted at RealGM)

CONTEXT

Miles Bridges was projected to be a lottery pick in last year’s draft before withdrawing his name from consideration and returning for his sophomore season at Michigan State.

That’s usually a dangerous proposition for these prospects, who are risking getting exposed or not showing enough development for the liking of pro decision makers in their second years in college.

That didn’t turn out to be the case with the 20-year-old[1] but he also didn’t manage to improve his status a whole lot either, as he’s currently expected to be drafted around the same range he was supposed to a year ago.

That’s not to say the six-foot-seven combo-forward was about the same player last season that he was in year one. In fact, it’s very curious how Bridges was pretty much a completely different player in year two.

As I wrote last August, Bridges impressed as a freshman by playing as a modern stretch big, capable of putting pressure on the rim as a finisher on dives to the basket or in the offensive glass and handling the ball out in space to create offense in isolation or out of the pick-and-roll, drawing opposing big men 25 feet away from the basket to defend in a way they are not accustomed to.

Defensively, Bridges translated his athletic ability into contesting shots near the basket coming off the weak-side in help-defense and running opposing stretch big men off their shots on closeouts.

More promisingly, though, Bridges also impressed with his technique in pick-and-roll defense as a big, getting down in a stance and walling off dribble penetration by rotating preemptively and manipulating ball-handlers into low-percentage mid-range pull-ups. He proved himself attentive to his responsibilities switching assignments on the fly as well.

But last season, he was asked to play, or he himself asked to play, a completely different role. In order to accommodate the four true big men Tom Izzo judged worthy of playing time, Bridges played as a pure wing the entire season, with the exception of a few stretches here and there when Michigan State was behind midway through the second half.

More of his shots were quick catch-and-shoot jumpers coming off screens on the side of the floor or sprinting to the ball on dribble hand-offs and he was tasked with guarding smaller players out on the perimeter for the most part.

As a result of his role, Bridges got to the rim less, collected a fewer percentage of available defensive rebounds and blocked fewer shots in his second year of college in comparison to his first.

I tended to dislike the way Bridges played last season but after going back to read what I wrote about him nine months ago, it turns out that all he did was focus on working on the few things I pointed out as causes for concern; individual perimeter defense, shooting versatility and foul shooting.

Therefore, taking a full view of his two-year college career instead of being myopic and only focusing on his most recent performance, I’m back to thinking very highly of Bridges, given the versatility of his skill-set and how much the league craves players like him right now.

In his 1,962 minutes in East Lansing, Bridges averaged 21.5 points per 40 minutes on 57.6% true shooting and 27.2% usage, nailed 37.5% of his 339 three-point shots, collected 20.4% of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor, assisted on 15.8% of Michigan State’s scores when he was in the game, blocked 1.4 shots per 40 minutes and posted a 22.8 PER[2].

OFFENSE

Bridges’ role on the offense this last season was to space the defense as a weak-side spot-up shooter in the corners, drifting around the wing and jog around staggered or pindown screens for catches at the elbow area and on the side of the floor.

As a result of where he got his touches, and also because Michigan State often had both its big men crowding the lane, Bridges took a lot of quick catch-and-shoot jumpers last season and rarely had enough space to curl all the way to the basket. After taking 37.1% of his shots at the rim in 2016-2017, he took just 27.1% of his attempts within close range in 2017-2018, while 42.7% of them came from beyond the arc[3].

His release seems somewhat quicker and more fluid. 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 getting up quick jumpers off picks but he has proven he is capable of taking some of these tougher shots on the move, especially one- and two-dribble pull-ups off dribble hand-offs but also the eventual step-back pull-up with some deep range in isolation.

Bridges nailed 36.4% of his 194 three-point shots last season, at a pace of 7.3 such attempts per 40 minutes, and 40.9% of his 137 two-point jumpers.

Just as importantly, perhaps, he’s shown tangible improvement as a foul shooter, which provides more security to the assumption that his shooting can translate to the longer range in the pros, as he converted 85.3% of his 109 foul shots, after hitting just 68.5% of his 92 free throws in year one.

Thanks to that improvement in foul shooting, Bridges has managed to maintain his efficiency despite the change in shot selection, as his .572 true shooting percentage in year two was in line with his .580 mark from year one.

Though he didn’t have as much responsibility creating from the top against a set defense, Bridges showcased his passing ability in instances where Jaren Jackson, Jr. spaced out to the three-point line and he had room to curl into the lane or attack closeouts, hitting open teammates on basic drop-offs or kick-outs, or when he took smaller matchups into the post and spotted cutters – assisting on 16.8% of Michigan State’s scores when he was on the floor last season.

When he looked to score with his back to the basket, Bridges has preferred to back down these smaller opponents with power moves. Listed at 225 pounds[4], he is heavier and stronger than the average wing and relies on his bulk to work his way into close range toss-ups or scoop shots around the defender, though he’s shown a no-dribble face-up jumper that has also looked good, as has his fadeaway jumper.

Given Michigan State’s iffy spacing in the half-court, Bridges wasn’t well set up to get to the rim off the dribble often but he managed to score at the basket in transition and on cuts sneaking behind the defense when the Spartans lifted their two big men above the foul line on horns sets, as 43 of his 82 makes at the rim were assisted. He is an explosive leaper off two feet and can play above the rim as a target for lobs on these backdoor cuts – finishing his 125 shots at the basket at a 65.5% clip.

DEFENSE

Tasked with guarding out in space pretty much the entire time, Bridges proved to be a little more capable of sliding laterally multiple times as a sophomore than he had shown to be as a freshman.

He is not a bonafide individual stopper by any means, as he doesn’t use his 225-pound frame to contain dribble penetration through contact and he is too big to be able to slide over screens at the point of attack.

But Bridges was able to do a better job staying in front well enough to contest shots in isolation, 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.

And it is worth noting he was stressed by different types as well; lighter shooters who make a living running around screens like Gary Trent, Jr. and Grayson Allen, ball-handling wings like Theo Pinson, wrecking ball types like Jae’Sean Tate, and active off-ball movers like Charles Matthews.

Bridges also did a decent job executing the scheme as a weak-side defender, attentive to his responsibilities guarding two players on the second side when Michigan State overloaded against the ball, rotating in to pick up the roll man and pitching in on the defensive glass — collecting 18.2% of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor.

But Bridges proved to be less of an asset in rim protection in this role. He started the season averaging 2.2 blocks per 40 minutes during the non-conference part of the schedule but had just 12 blocks over the last 20 games, eventually finishing his second season of college averaging just one block per 40 minutes.

He also didn’t show much of a knack for using his six-foot-nine wingspan[5] to make plays in the passing lanes – averaging just 0.6 steals per 40 minutes last season.

Nonetheless, though Michigan State defended slightly better without him in the lineup[6], the team’s defensive rating in his minutes would still rank them in the top 20 in adjusted defensive efficiency[7].


[1] DOB: 3/21/1998

[2] According to our stats’ database

[3] According to hoop-math

[4] According to Michigan State’s official listing

[5] According to Draft Express

[6] According to our stats’ database

[7] According to Ken Pomeroy

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

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Mohamed Bamba Scouting Report

(First posted at RealGM)

CONTEXT

Mohamed Bamba was the fourth-ranked prospect in the 2017 high school class[1].

In his one year at Texas, the seven-foot center accumulated 906 minutes of college basketball experience, while posting a 26.3 PER, averaging 17.1 points per 40 minutes on 59.3% true shooting, collecting 28.3% of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor[2] and ranking fourth in the country in total blocks.

Bamba projects as a catch-and-score finisher in the pros but didn’t get the benefit of playing with someone who would set him up very well very often. There were two other NBA prospects on the team, Andrew Jones and Kerwin Roach II, but neither is a particularly special ball handler and Jones only played the first third of the season before leaving the team to battle leukemia.

Texas put in the effort to space the floor but stretch-four Dylan Osetkowski is more of a shot taker than a shot maker and Jones was the only true above average shooter the team had. As is, the Longhorns ended up rating below average in three-point attempts, makes and percentage, which didn’t offer the 19-year-old[3] many opportunities to look as great as he’s expected to be rolling hard to the rim.

Nonetheless, the Harlem, New York native still made a living getting looks near the basket, sneaking behind the defense and on put-backs, while mixing in the eventual post-up attempt here and there. Bamba also took three-pointers out of the pick-and-pop fairly aggressively. His release looks promising enough for him to keep working on it but he is not yet a real threat to make these shots often.

On the other end, Bamba also made more of an impact near the goal, not just thanks to his remarkable length but also due to good rim protection instincts. He has a lean frame within the context of his height and got bumped off his spot from time-to-time but wasn’t really exposed in the post and the defensive glass all that often, suggesting he might become a steady presence in these areas once his body matures some more.

Bamba is quite mobile for someone his size and Texas tried leveraging this by having him show high above the three-point arc or hedge against the pick-and-roll somewhat frequently. He was also asked to pick up smaller players on switches every once in a while. Bamba has physical talent to be expected to develop into an effective defender out in space but for now isn’t as much of an asset as you’d assume.

INTERIOR DEFENSE

Bamba’s top skill at this point of his development is his effectiveness as a rim protector, as he averaged 4.8 blocks per 40 minutes last season[4]. He’s also shown versatility in terms of rim protection, able to block shots coming off the weak-side in help defense, stepping up to the front of the basket as the last line of defense and defending on the ball.

Bamba is almost always alert to his responsibilities roaming around the basket, can move quickly in short areas, leaps easily off the ground out of one or two feet, has a massive nine-foot-six standing reach[5] and puts in the effort to challenge almost everything he is close by, not just via shot blocking but via verticality as well, though his explosiveness has left something to be desired in instances where he’s been asked to venture far away from the basket and then hustle back.

The fact that he contests so many shots so actively while averaging just 3.4 personal fouls per 40 minutes is also very impressive.

Bamba showed to be attentive to his boxout responsibilities, though he rarely got very physical trying to erase his man off the play. He has a lean 225-pound frame[6] in the context of his seven-foot height and is prone to getting pushed out of the way by tougher, more relentless opponents.

Nonetheless, Bamba had an athletic advantage against just about everyone he played against at the collegiate level. Thanks to his quickness reacting to the ball off the rim and ability to pursue it at a higher level than most of the competition, his defensive rebounding percentage ranked 10th in the NCAA.

Such an impact close to the basket showed up in the bottom line: Bamba averaged 30.2 minutes per game on a team that ranked 12th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency[7].

An area where he has room for improvement in terms of interior defense is developing anticipation instincts to make preventive rotations that clog driving lanes and intimidate ball-handlers from getting to the rim in the first place.

PERIMETER DEFENSE

Texas had Bamba hedging or showing hard at the three-point line a few times last season, depending on how capable of pulling up from long range the opposing point guard was.

He is certainly well coordinated out in space and has shown some ability of being able to harass and influence ball-handlers 25 feet away from the basket but is only so-so at keeping track and recovering back to this man after the blitz.

When asked to pick up smaller players on switches, Bamba has proven himself able to bend his knees to get down in a stance, keep pace off the dribble on straight line drives and block or intimidate shots defending on the ball at the basket. He’s not an option for every matchup out on an island, though, as shiftier types can shake him side-to-side and get by him.

Bamba has a remarkable seven-foot-nine wingspan but hasn’t yet learned how to shut down passing lanes around him. His average of one steal per 40 minutes is kind of a disappointment.

As is his defense against stretch big men at the three-point line. Despite his athletic ability, Bamba wasn’t very good at running shooters off their shots on closeouts.

INTERIOR OFFENSE

On offense, he is expected to earn his money in the pros as a threat on catch-and-finishes at the basket. Bamba is an explosive leaper off two feet and can play above the rim as a target for lobs, though it’s still unclear how well he can catch the ball in traffic, given Texas didn’t manage to hit him on pocket passes very often.

And because he wasn’t always very well set up, there were times Bamba had to catch the ball, take a dribble to balance himself and go up for a non-dunk finish with a body between him and the basket and in these instances, he showed appealing coordination and decent touch on non-dunk finishes – converting his 132 shots at the basket at a 78.8% clip[8].

Bamba is also very effective on the offensive glass, where he has a knack for disentangling from his man and can use his length to rebounding outside of his area – collecting 12.2% of Texas’ misses when he was on the floor. Bamba also proved himself able of translating these second chance opportunities into immediate scores often thanks to his quick second jump and explosiveness on putback dunk attempts – finishing his 49 putback attempts at a 73.7% clip.

Bamba was activated in the post quite a bit, mostly in order to ignite weak-side movement where shooters and cutters tried to free themselves of their defenders. After showing to be a more capable passer during Texas’ preseason tour in Australia, he didn’t impress as much in terms of passing instincts in the regular season, mostly only spotting wide-open teammates on evident reads – assisting on just 3.6% of Texas’ scores when he was on the floor.

Bamba struggled to set deep position in the post due to his lack of strength, often getting pushed further away from the spot he intended to catch the ball in the first place. His feet are light but he is not particularly well coordinated bumping against stronger opponents, doesn’t have much feel for handling double teams and is not very secure with the ball. His average of two turnovers per 40 minutes is too high for someone with a 21.3% usage rate.

He doesn’t have any power moves and hasn’t yet developed the use of shot fakes, head fakes, ambidexterity as finisher or turnaround jumpers at this point of his development. When he manages to get a shot off, Bamba usually goes for the basic right-handed hook over the defender’s left shoulder or a face-up jumper.

PERIMETER OFFENSE

Bamba ended up taking fewer long range bombs than I expected when I wrote about him in the preseason but he was still an above average shot taker for a center, getting up 51 three-point attempts in 30 appearances, at a pace of 2.3 such shots per 40 minutes.

He established himself as a capable open shot shooter for now, able to take three-pointers from the top of the key joining the offense late as the trailer in transition and from around the wing out of the pick-and-pop if left wide-open by the defense.

His release has become a bit more fluid, one without a particularly quick trigger but with somewhat comfortable mechanics for someone his size. He doesn’t often get good arc on his shot and his touch is only so-so, though.

Overall, Bamba is not yet any sort of a real floor-spacer. The ball still doesn’t go in a whole lot, as he nailed just 14 three-point shots the entire season. His 68.1% shooting on 119 free throws also put into doubt how real his potential as a shooter truly is.


[1] According to ESPN

[2] According to our stats’ database

[3] DOB: 5/12/1998

[4] According to sports-reference

[5] According to Draft Express

[6] According to Texas’ official listing

[7] According to Ken Pomeroy

[8] According to hoop-math

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

Zhaire Smith Scouting Report

By June, Zhaire Smith might be one of the biggest risers in this draft class.

An unheralded prospect out of Lakeview Centennial High School in Garland, ranked 233rd in the 2017 class[1], the six-foot-five Swiss army knife had a standout freshman season at Texas Tech, aiding the Red Raiders’ run to the Elite Eight.

Once an overlooked prospect, he has now turned into one of this year’s most intriguing players and sought after commodities, projecting as an eventual lottery pick, with ESPN slotting him 14th in its latest mock draft.

His numbers won’t wow anybody but they were respectable, as the 18-year-old[2] averaged 15.9 points per 40 minutes on 61.8% true shooting and posted a 22.9 PER. His plus-12 box plus-minus ranked seventh in the country[3].

He isn’t much of a natural scorer or general offensive threat, logging just 18.3% usage in his 1,050 minutes last season and being assisted on 59.7% of his field-goals, with another 21 of his 62 unassisted field-goals coming on putbacks[4].

But he really shined on the other end. The combination of defensive versatility, athleticism and length should have a lot of scouts and coaches overlooking his unpolished offense, hoping they can eventually turn him into a two-way dynamo.

Smith has ideal size for a two-guard, carrying a 195-pound frame and sporting a six-foot-10 wingspan. He’s a freak athlete, who shines primarily on defense, showcasing the ability to guard multiple positions. I’m not sure he’s an elite isolation stopper, but he sure will be a pest for most guards at the next level.

His fundamentals are sound, getting into a low stance and possessing the first step quickness to stay in front of most guards and forwards. The length comes into play when Smith doesn’t have the speed to stay in front of someone, as you’ll see in the play below against Big 12 Player of the Year Devonte’ Graham. He gets beat on a spin move, but has the length and athleticism to recover, exploding off two feet in a pinch, despite being shifted side-to-side, to block the lay-up.

Smith on ball defense, beat on spin move a little, length to recover and block shot

Smith is good at getting through screens, aware of switches and capable communicating them to teammates. There were times where Texas Tech would have him guard two or three different types in a given possession.

But where he really pops for me as a defender is with his shot blocking. Smith has great awareness and timing, coming over from the weak-side often to help a teammate who has been beaten and then destroying whatever shot attempt gets thrown up, while also excelling as a transition defender, running down opposing players for highlight chase-down blocks – averaging 1.6 blocks per 40 minutes.

His pursuit of the ball with great effort is also something that impresses. His motor, combined with his length and instincts making plays in the passing lanes resulted in him averaging 1.5 steals per 40 minutes.

Smith monster block, two footed explosive jumper, good timing

Smith rundown block, effort length athleticism

Thanks to his solid individual defense and his ability to create events as a weak-side defender, Smith ranked second on the team among rotation players in defensive rating[5], while averaging 28.4 minutes per game on a team that finished fourth in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency[6].

Offensively, there is a lot left to be desired and developed for Smith, but being only 18 years old gives him plenty of time to work on the empty spaces in his repertoire. I don’t think he’s a natural scorer, a fluid shooter or very skilled at this point of his career, but he is still somewhat effective in a few areas.

His signature was to annihilate rims in collegiate arenas off of teammates’ missed shots, collecting 9.6% of Texas Tech’s misses when he was on the floor and finishing his 37 putback attempts at a 57.1% clip.

Again, you’re talking about a special athlete here, with great length. Smith’s a two-foot jumper who finishes above the rim with authority often. Most of his offense is created or manifested by his teammates, with 58.7% of his makes at the rim and 94.1% of his three-point makes assisted last season.

Still, the elite athleticism allows Smith to be productive, even without being an elite offensive talent. He is not yet an ambidextrous finisher and sometimes looks hesitant to attack the basket on catch-and-go’s but is an exceptional finisher in transition, on cuts sneaking behind the defense and on instances where he was given the chance to dive to the basket as the screener in the pick-and-roll – converting his 168 shots at the rim at a 64.9% clip.

Smith athleticism two footer jumper explodes bounce putback dunk

Smith bounce, alley oop off inbounds pass, two footed jump, head at if not above rim

He doesn’t have much polish yet as a scorer or playmaker; his handle is pretty limited as of now, his footwork is a bit sloppy and sometimes he gets stuck trying to create off the dribble. His mid-range game looks encouraging, despite the fact he nailed just 39.7% of his 63 two-point jumper due to the fact that most of the shots he takes coming off the dribble are forced.

Even on his makes, you can see that while the elevation he gets on his jumper is good, he’s just very mechanical as a shooter. Smith’s release is fundamentally sound but his wind up is long and his follow through isn’t consistent. He nailed 45% of his 40 three-point shots but at a pace of just 1.5 such attempts per 40 minutes.

But since shooting is arguably the most likely aspect of a skill-set to improve at the next level, some teams might overlook this about Smith’s game, especially considering he nailed 71.7% of his 127 foul shots, suggesting there is room for him to be expected to develop into at least an average open shot spot-up shooter.

Smith off dribble, tough finish-take, doesn't go up with left hand-forces it with the right

Smith FT line jumper, rawness offensively, picks up dribble, gets stuck a bit

Smith ? off dribble scoring ability, almost looking to get rid of it and pass ball, forces handoff, picks up dribble quickly

Overall, Smith is an extremely intriguing prospect and I do understand why so many scouts, executives and draftniks are very high on him. He’s oozing two-way ability with elite athleticism.

I think the best case scenario for him would be developing into a player like Andre Iguodala. His defensive versatility will allow teams to play him immediately if needed and the fact that he doesn’t need to have the ball means he can also probably produce for an NBA team right away. He could be that role player that could help sure up a fringe playoff team and add athleticism on the backend of their rotation to their roster.

Or he could even intrigue rebuilding teams, because of his immense two-way potential, though I don’t think Smith is an elite talent and I don’t think he will be a franchise changer for whatever team selects him come June. That doesn’t mean I don’t think he will be a productive player at the next level, as I think he’ll be a serviceable starter or a top role player for some team that already has the top of the pecking order figured out.

[1] According to 247 Sports

[2] DOB: 6/4/1999

[3] According to sports-reference

[4] According to hoop-math

[5] According to RealGM

[6] According to Ken Pomeroy

Editor’s Note: Evan Wheeler is a regular contributor to ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Denver Sidekickswhere he is also a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @EvzSports