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Know The Prospect: Miles Bridges

He may be the only Bridges the MTA can’t screw up somehow.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round- Michigan State Spartans vs Syracuse Orange Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Knicks’ primary small forwards last year were Lance Thomas and Tim Hardaway Jr. The two years prior, Hardaway spent 90%-92% of his minutes in Atlanta as a shooting guard, putting up the best numbers of his career. Over Thomas’s three years in New York, he’s steadily spent more and more time at the 4. It sounds like coach David Fizdale envisions him staying at big forward, if not moving up to play some small-ball center. There are minutes available at the three-spot next year in New York. There may be minutes for a small-ball four, too, especially if Michael Beasley continues to gather no moss rolling from team to team. Is there a draftee out there who’d fit both bills? There is.

20-year-old Miles Bridges’s measureables measure up: 6’7”, 230 with a 6’10” wingspan, the lefty has the height and mass to man either forward spot. There’s bulk to back down smaller defenders.

There’s also the quicks and savvy to excel on the perimeter. Bridges makes a ton of plays out of the corners, showing a surgeon’s instinct for knowing when to cut.

Emphatic instincts, at times.

He’s even been known to posterize a teammate.

Bridges can also shoot the three-ball, making 38% of his attempts over two years in college with a healthy 43% of his shot attempts beyond the arc. His free throw percentage rose from 69% his freshman year to 85% last year, a positive indicator that Bridges’ shooting touch could be for real in the pros. He’s got the chops to pick-and-pop behind the arc.

When he does drive, Bridges is adept finishing with either hand.

Emphatically adept, at times.

Beyond being able to stretch the floor, Bridges is a capable playmaker, able to pass up shots and attack closeouts, critical in today’s NBA. At this stage of his development, attacking closeouts usually means Bridges creating a closer look for himself.

With improved ball-handling, Bridges could grow into more of a threat distributing.

Sign me up today for 8-10 years of this if Bridges ends up a Knick.

A better handle could alleviate one of the few red flags in the versatile Bridges’s game: his lack of free throw attempts. Free throw rating (FTr) measures how many free throws per field goal attempt a player takes. Bridges’ rating last year was .239, which puts him slightly below what Emmanuel Mudiay did with the Knicks. Looking back over recent lottery combo forwards, Bridges could go either way.

Stanley Johnson’s college FTr was .456; his pro high came last year, his third, at just .259. Tobias Harris was .423 his lone year in school, then he peaked as a third-year pro at .341 and has seen his FTr drop every since to a career-low .177 last season. Jayson Tatum and Josh Jackson were both around .400 in college and .300 as NBA rookies. Harrison Barnes reached .374 his sophomore year in college, but his NBA average is .246. Long story short: stronger ball-handling would turn a lot of ughs into oohs and ahhs.

Bridges combination of reach and robustitude could make him a fine fit at the 4 in small-ball lineups. And as he shares Frank Ntilikina’s need for improved ball-handling, so does he share a weakness with Kristaps Porzingis: difficulty handling pressure from double-teams.

Bridges shares something else with Porzingis and Ntilikina. He can defend. Check out the lateral foot speed and lower-body strength to cut off drives and keep his man from muscling past him.

Bridges showed the IQ and quickness necessary to hedge toward a teammate’s assignment, yet recover and contest against his own.

He even blocked seven three-pointers. Gotta figure that’s a high number, right? How often do you see three-pointers blocked?

There is an air of modernity around Fizdale’s philosophies. One infers he’d like the Knicks to get out and run more than they’re used to. That’d be fine with Bridges: he hit two-thirds of his shots at the rim and nearly three-quarters of transition looks from that close.

Bridges was more effective shooting in transition (53% on twos, 39% on threes) than halfcourt (39% on twos, 36% on threes). His shooting numbers were also better early in the shot clock than mid- or late possession, as broken down per Hoop-Math:

SHOTS IN FIRST 10 SECONDS: 52% 2P, 35% 3P, 41% of FGAs at the rim, 40% of FGAs from 3

SHOTS IN 11-20 SECONDS: 38% 2P, 42% 3P, 21% of FGAs at the rim, 41% of FGAs from 3

SHOTS IN LAST 10 SECONDS: 28% 2P, 26% 3P, 14% of FGAs at the rim, 54% of FGAs from 3

Long story short: like many of us, Bridges struggles in stressful situations.

It’s always a relief, isn’t it? When the rich and famous (or soon to be) turn out to be just as flawed as we know ourselves to be?

You probably aren’t surprised to know the four years Mike D’Antoni coached in New York, the Knicks finished 2nd, 8th, 3rd and 5th in pace of play. But did you know that other than the Pringles era, the Knicks haven’t finished top-10 in pace even once since nineteen eighty freaking nine?! Running unlocks Bridges the creator. 41% of his assists came in transition.

A whopping 44% of his assists came at the rim. That seems whopping, to me, anyway.

40% of his dimes became threes.

Quirky stat I dug up: opponents rebounded 69% of the shots Bridges blocked, far and away the highest on his team. I don’t really know what, if anything, that signifies. Which, according to Bridges, means I reject it with extreme prejudice.

If a home-run prospect like Trae Young is available, would the Knicks rather swing for the fences on a player with greater upside? Or would they prefer the higher floor but lower ceiling of Bridges? If you’re building a team thinking you need a second star to make Porzingis want to re-sign long-term, maybe Bridges isn’t the best choice. If you’re building a team thinking you’re good if you land a two-way starter on a someday contender, Bridges may be the way to go.

These days the Knicks talk a big game about player development. One way you develop players is by putting them in the best positions to succeed. Adding a legit combo forward like Bridges would let the team slide Hardaway Jr. back down to his natural position; when they want to play small, those two could function as the three and the four. The Knicks need some oomph at the wings. The current peanut gallery is no Murderer’s Row.

If the Knicks improve next year, or at least don’t utterly collapse, this could be their highest draft choice for a while. They hit it big with Porzingis three years ago The jury’s still out on Ntilikina after year one. It’s high time they hit again.