LAS VEGAS -- The Charlotte Hornets lost an 87-84 overtime thriller to the Toronto Raptors on Saturday to end their session in the Las Vegas Summer League. The Hornets had the chance this session to evaluate several young players who could potentially get minutes on their main squad. Midseason trade acquisition Willy Hernangomez (personal), 2017 lottery pick Malik Monk (thumb) and 2018 second-round rookie Devonte' Graham (knee) had all been shut down before Saturday's game, allowing wings Miles Bridges (12th pick in 2018 draft) and 2017 second-rounder Dwayne Bacon to feature as the primary options.
Bridges popped visually on Saturday, displaying several skills that seem likely to translate to the next level. His shot was off, as he made only 5 of 20 from the field, but he contributed in other ways; even many of the missed shots were "good" for the role that Bridges is likely to play for the Hornets this season.
Bridges is a big, uber-athletic wing with an NBA body who can do a lot of things on the court. That said, Bridges doesn't have the handle or vision to be a primary initiator. Thus, the 3-point shot will be a key for Bridges to contribute significantly as a rookie.
On Saturday, many offensive sets began with Bridges going directly to the corner 3-point line to set up. On several occasions, a teammate would break down the defense and kick it to Bridges for the open trey, but he was ice cold (1-of-8 from behind the arc). His one made trey came off the dribble from the top of the key, over a defender, which should in theory be a tougher shot. All of his 3-point attempts looked comfortable and in rhythm, though, and he did have one game on Tuesday against the Boston Celtics (4-of-10 3s, 20 points) in which that shot was falling. Bridges struggled from behind the arc to the tune of 6-of-31 shooting (19.4 percent) during his entire session, though, and this clearly has to be his biggest area of work during the rest of the offseason.
Bridges did do a good job of using the threat of his corner 3-point shot to set up a drive or a cut that led to points on Saturday. On one set in the third quarter, Bridges came to the corner, paused, then broke baseline to catch a beautiful alley-oop for a two-handed dunk. On another play in the fourth quarter, Bridges caught the ball in the corner, then dribble-drove with a reverse spin move to get into the lane for the finish. Bridges has a quick first step off the dribble and does have the body and leaping ability to finish in traffic, even at the next level. He was also able to absorb contact, generating eight free throw attempts and making seven.
Bridges was impressive on the glass, leading the Hornets with 11 rebounds on Saturday. Many of his rebounds were extremely athletic, with Bridges attacking to grab boards outside of his area. One of the highlights of Saturday's action didn't even make it to the box score, as Bridges skied in for an offensive board over two Raptors. He was high off the ground, but was called for an over-the-back foul. Still, the attempt was so impressive that the league showed the replay twice on the jumbo screen.
Bridges was also very engaged defensively on Saturday, generating four steals and a blocked shot to go with his team-high nine defensive boards. Bridges' highlight defensive possession came in overtime when he was isolated on Toronto wing Malachi Richardson. Richardson attempted to drive, but Bridges moved his feet, stayed in front of him, then went up and blocked Richardson's shot before going to pick up the defensive rebound. Much like the 3-pointer on offense, that level of aggressive, disruptive defense will be Bridges' calling card to play consistently as a rookie.
While Bridges flashed a lot of the tools that made him a lottery pick this year, Bacon was actually the most impressive offensive threat for the Hornets against the Raptors. Bacon scored a game-high 28 points, and was often the primary ball handler in offensive sets in a fourth quarter that saw him go 4-of-6 from the field for 11 of his points. However, Bacon was playing a role on Saturday (offensive focal point) that he is unlikely to play at the next level. Bacon played in 53 games as a rookie, but his path to playing time is more hustle and defense than scoring, as his lack of 3-point shooting (0-2 3s Saturday, only 25.6 percent as a rookie) and floor generalship limit his ceiling offensively.
Bacon had a great summer league game on Saturday, but he will be hard pressed for minutes on the wing. Bridges' shot was off, but what he displayed on defense and his athletic ability teased tantalizing potential for the next level. During one fourth-quarter sequence, one of my colleagues muttered of Bridges, "He doesn't belong here. He's too good." For now, Bridges will start out in the rotation behind starters Nicolas Batum and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. If Bridges is able to consistently knock down that 3-pointer, he definitely has the tools to be a strong contributor for the Hornets, even as a rookie.