Miles Bridges dazzled during his freshman year at Michigan State. At 6-foot-7, he possess NBA-ready athleticism and a reliable outside shot. He scored 16.9 points and grabbed 8.3 rebounds in an injury-shortened campaign and impressed enough to be considered a potential lottery pick in this year’s draft.
But it’s starting to sound like he won’t hear his name called at all. That’s because Bridges is leaning towards returning to East Lansing for another year, per an Adrian Wojnarowski report. There has been measured chatter within the Spartan community that Bridges wasn’t done with the college experience, but the kind people want to believe out of wishful thinking instead of truly do believe in reality.
Apparently, Bridges himself is the only person who doesn’t think he’s quite ready to play in the NBA.
Despite coach Tom Izzo, family and even Spartans NBA alumni and professional agents encouraging him to leave, Bridges is telling everyone that it’s his intention to bypass the draft, sources told The Vertical.
Bridges feels the necessity for another year of college preparation at small forward, a spot he’ll play significant minutes next season under Izzo, sources said. Izzo has been supportive of Bridges entering the draft based largely on his status as a lottery pick.
While it is true that Bridges was often forced into the power forward position last year after season-ending injuries to big men Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter, it’s not as if he spent much of his time in the low post. He did all the things — slash to the hoop, spot up for three — that NBA 3’s are asked to do.
In short, he has nothing to prove. He is ready to play in the league — and be productive — right now. To most everyone not named Miles Bridges, this seems a bizarre choice.
That’s fine. It’s his choice to make. And there’s a chance it might not look so crazy in retrospect to the outside world.
Let me preface by saying that, barring a career-ending injury, Bridges doesn’t seem destined to regret putting his professional dreams on hold for an extra year. He has a special relationship with Izzo and wants to come back more for team reasons than personal reasons.
In addition to his affinity for Izzo, there’s the very real chance the Spartans compete for a national championship next March. Fellow sophomores Nick Ward, Cassius Winston and Josh Langford will be complemented by another blistering recruiting class featuring five-star forward Jaren Jackson and four-star forward Xavier Tillman. Five-star big man Brandon McCoy and small forward Brian Bowen are also considering Michigan State. If the dominoes fall a certain way, Bridges will find himself on a team that’s the odds-on favorite to win it all.
He appears to be the very rare exception to the rule: a player who is undervaluing his readiness and ability. A player who wants to pass up big bucks in lieu of winning a collegiate title.
But Bridges’ unconventional move could work out for him in the end. If he improves on his freshman year as expected, he’ll vault from a fringe lottery pick into a top-three guy in 2018. He’ll also be a part of what figures to be a weaker draft class in comparison to this year’s stacked field.
Missouri-bound Michael Porter Jr. and Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton figure to be contenders for the top overall pick when that time comes. While they have untapped potential, Bridges has proven what he can do at the college level. It’s not unreasonable to think he could vault to No. 1 after another stellar season. Most mock drafts are bereft of any experience in the lottery pick range so he’ll be stacking up against a field of freshman.
It’s difficult to understand what Bridges appears to be doing. Most people would take the money and run. He’s not most people. It would be devastating if his gamble backfired. Then again, one can throw a rock and hit a player who came out too early (like MSU’s Deyonta Davis last year).
There are simply no guarantees. If he does return, Bridges will be doing it for his own reasons. There’s no way to see inside his mind but I don’t think it’s necessarily about improving his person game. This seems deeper, and more about relationships.