The Whiteboard is The Step Back’s daily basketball newsletter, covering the NBA, WNBA and more. Subscribe here to get it delivered to you via email each morning.
If the NBA season ended today, Miles Bridges would win Most Improved Player by an enormous margin. And honestly, you could make an argument that he’d belong in the MVP conversation.
The Hornets are off to a 4-1 start with LaMelo Ball commanding much of the attention, as was the preseason trend. But it was Bridges who won Eastern Conference Player of the Week to kick off the season and he’s the one averaging 26.2 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.8 steals per game, on essentially 50/40/90 shooting splits.
Bridges was very good last season for the Hornets, playing a lot of power forward despite measuring out at just 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds, knocking down spot-up 3s reliably for the first time in his career, playing solid defense and providing a steady diet of highlight dunks as a cutter and lane-filler in transition.
But Bridges isn’t just functioning as an offensive endpoint this season, leveraging the gravity of Charlotte’s other creators as an efficient dunks-and-3s machine. His production has surged while he’s also taken on much more primacy and responsibility for creating his own shots.
Miles Bridges has become a legitimate on-ball weapon for the Hornets
Last season, 71.6 percent of Bridges’ 2-point baskets and 81.9 percent of his 3-point baskets were assisted on. This season, that’s dropped to 48.5 and 80.0 percent, respectively. He’s averaging nearly twice as many drives per game (8.6) as he did last season (4.9) and between his shooting efficiency (48.1 percent) and the number of shooting fouls he’s drawing (on 16.3 percent of his drives) he’s scoring an astronomical 0.931 points per drive. To put that number in context, Kevin Durant led the league last season among players with at least 8 drives per game at just 0.850.
And he’s not just barreling his way to the rim for dunks and layups either, although there has been plenty of that too. He’s percentages on pull-ups are down but he’s already made 6 pull-up 3s in five games, after making 35 all of last season across 66 games.
To be clear, Bridges still absolutely benefits from playing in lineups that are loaded with multiple shooters and creators like Gordon Hayward and LaMelo Ball. And his opportunities may winnow a bit when Terry Rozier and P.J. Washington are fully healthy and re-integrated into the lineup. But he still appears set up for a monster, breakout season and his continuing development will be key for the Hornets as they chase a playoff spot.
The Lakers’ defense is in trouble
The Lakers have gotten off to an extremely rocky start, one that’s probably even more concerning than their 2-3 record would indicate. They have been among the worst defenses in the league so far this season, surrendering an average of 111.4 points per 100 possessions and it’s been particularly bad in lineups built around their Big 3.
In the 63 minutes and 137 possessions Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook and LeBron James have been on the court together, they’ve allowed an average of 116.1 points per 100 possessions with a point differential of minus-9.4.
Obviously, LeBron is dinged up and they’ve been playing without two of their better wing defenders — Trevor Ariza and Talen Horton-Tucker — as they recover from injuries. But the hypothetical ceiling of this team seemed to be built around a template of elite defense and good enough offense. They have a chance to build some positive momentum over the next week or so with the Cavs, a pair of games against the Rockets and another game against the Thunder before the level of difficulty picks up again.
But any questions about the offensive fit and spacing of Russell Westbrook in their starting lineup probably need to be set aside until they figure out how to stop someone.
This week on The Long Two: What makes Kings rookie Davion Mitchell one of the NBA’s best on-ball defenders, and why the Warriors’ offense looks better than it did a year ago.
Issa Rae and Kevin Durant — two GOATs, just sitting around talking shop.
All-Stars selections are going to be wild this year with so many breakout seasons. Who could make their first appearance?