Miles Bridges’ dip in three-point shooting show just how well-rounded he’s become

Miles Bridges, Charlotte Hornets (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)
Miles Bridges, Charlotte Hornets (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images) /

If you haven’t heard about Miles Bridges‘ leap from “fine role player” to “probably the second-best player on a legit contender, in the Charlotte Hornets”, well, I would like to welcome you back from the rock you’ve been hanging out under. Bridges’ scoring improvement this season has rightfully garnered him a swath of national media attention, and his name is the first to come to mind for many in the–albeit, very early– Most Improved Player conversation.

Miles Bridges’ dip in three-point shooting show just how well-rounded he’s become.

But Bridges’ improvement are not par for the course when looking back at MIP winners of the past, and if he continues this high level of play and captures this award, he will do so in a pretty unique way. Every winner of “Most Improved Player” in the last decade has either improved their three-point percentage in their award year or at the very least kept it steady from the year before.

Unsurprisingly, a more efficient and voluminous three-point shot is the quickest way to drastically improve a player’s scoring average, which in turn is the best way to become a candidate for the award. From an even broader scope, developing a three-point jumper is the easiest way for in-between NBA players to lengthen their careers.

That’s not rocket science! Going from an average or below-average three-point shooter to a serviceable or very good shooter will get you more points. Boom. That’s some really high-level basketball analysis for you.

However, what about a player dramatically improving their scoring output while seeing their three-point percentage drop drastically as well? Well, that’s Bridges this season. He currently has the biggest increase in scoring in the entire NBA, from the 2020-21 season to 21-22 at +9.0 PPG. But he’s also shot the three considerably worse than he did last year– currently shooting 33.6 percent from deep, after shooting forty percent last year.

The month of November has been even worse, with Bridges barely cracking thirty percent from behind the arc. In other words, for Bridges to be leading (or at least neck-and-neck with Grizzlies guard Ja Morant) the Most Improved Player “race” at about the quarter mark of the season, while his 3PT% has taken a significant dip at the time of writing this, is pretty unique.

Oftentimes, NBA players will start the season on an impressive run but will do so by shooting something exorbitant like 86 percent from the field, or 66 percent from three-point range. Obviously, those numbers always have to come back down to Earth. But so far for Bridges, none of his numbers–raw or advanced– are outlandish, and nothing he is doing can be pointed to as an outlier.

Of course, Bridges shooting a better three-ball would be great. Anyone getting better at shooting is always good, and his shooting slump is not a good thing, but for the time being, Bridges is essentially just doing what he has always been good at, a lot more frequently than he has in the past, and it’s working.

If anything, the lackluster three-point shooting shows that Bridges has another level to his game, and last year’s shooting shows that he certainly has the skill to unlock it. If Bridges can shoot at the clip he did last year, or even at a league-average percentage (around 34.5 percent at the moment) he can become even more dominant.

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If Bridges’ shot isn’t falling, how exactly is he playing so well? Does his scoring increase with 3PT% decrease make his overall improvements less impressive– or more?

Well, as I said, he’s basically just taking the best parts of his game– namely, bullying weaker defenders into the paint, which I absolutely love to watch– and trying them much more frequently. Where Bridges has shot from this season has not changed much. He’s taking fewer threes in regards to his total FG attempts and shooting a bit more at the rim, but for the most part, his shot distribution chart looks very similar to last year’s.

Another important factor in Bridges’ explosion on offense is, simply, opportunity. Bridges’ minutes have risen from 29.3 MPG up to 36.2 MPG, his usage rate has risen from around 17% to around 24%, and he’s driving to the hoop 9.4 times per game, almost doubling last year’s 4.9 drives per game. And of course, field goal attempts, with Bridges shooting 17.3 times a game, versus 9.4 last year.

This should not be interpreted as me saying that Bridges hasn’t improved some pretty important aspects of his game. Those 9.4 drives per game don’t mean a whole lot if a lot of them are ending with turnovers or questionable shots, and good news; they’re mostly not! In fact, Bridges TO% is down to 8.4% from last season’s 14.8%, and his AST% is up to a career-high 14.2%.

These are great signs for someone who is driving almost ten times per game. Drives up, assists up, turnovers down. These stats all point to Bridges’ ball-handling and creation skills becoming sharper and sharper.

Just watching Bridges play this year confirms that to be true. He can utilize a crossover, a jab step, a half-spin, or just back his defender down for about fifteen feet. His bag from the wing is seemingly endless, and he gets more and more confident in his isolation skills. In fact, the most telling stat might be how many of his baskets are assisted on.

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Last season, over 70 percent of Bridges’ two-point baskets were assisted, and this year that’s down to 59 percent. His ability to take any defender smaller than him (and some that are bigger than he is) off the dribble and get to the edge of the paint and shoot a mini-hook or get a running start and get all the way to the hoop creates a mismatch for most defenses.

There is no bigger testament to the Hornets player development program than how obvious it was that Bridges would have a breakout year this season. The flashes of elite scoring potential were always there for him, and last year, the flashes became stretches, and now the stretches have become normal games for him. It was not a quick process, but in his fourth year, Miles Bridges has officially arrived, and James Borrego and company are giving him the opportunities necessary for his breakout.

So in short, Bridges’ shooting slump is something to monitor but nothing to panic about, especially considering so many star players are slumping in the first part of this season (possibly because of the new ball? Who knows.

Personally, I can shoot fine with any ball, but I’m built a little different than these guys.

It may sound backward, but I’m actually more impressed with Miles Bridges this year because he’s become a much more refined and aggressive version of the player he already was. No, missing a lot of threes is not impressive, but Bridges’ ability to improve this thoroughly in spite of his three-pointer to this point shot is something to behold.

The mediocre 3-point numbers show that what he’s doing is not a flash in the pan, quite the opposite. Bridges is showing that his success can be sustainable– he has already shown the ability to knock down threes, and this appears to be just a slump. But he’s now scoring in pretty much every other way, at pretty high volume, showing how well-rounded his game has become.

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