It’s time to have a serious talk about Miles Bridges deserving to be an NBA All-Star

·7 min read

Since the home team didn’t give them a whole lot to cheer about and the guy who could prove to be the one that got away roasted them for a career best, it seemed inevitable Monday afternoon.

More than a few in the sellout Madison Square Garden crowd voiced their displeasure with things several times. Whether it was someone blurting out an expletive at New York City mayor Eric Adams while he gave a pregame speech in honor of the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day or the boos that fell from the rafters because the Charlotte Hornets were pummeling Knicks for the better part of two-plus hours, some weren’t in the mood to remain silent all afternoon.

So it came as no shock to hear one fan blurt out something others were probably also thinking while watching Miles Bridges torch them repeatedly.

“We wanted that,” he shouted from the 200-level seats.

With Kevin Knox II — the player the Knicks drafted in 2018 three spots ahead of where the Hornets selected Bridges — shipped out of Manhattan last week and sent to Atlanta in a trade for Cam Reddish, the wound was still overly fresh. Bridges’ out-of-this-world execution in Monday’s 97-87 win over New York poured enough salt and peroxide on that gash to keep them screaming for weeks. Or years considering how he’s formed an exciting tandem with LaMelo Ball.

Even with the Hornets’ star not playing because of a non-COVID illness, Bridges was as clutch as he’s been all season. He tossed in 38 points, snapping the previous individual scoring mark he set Nov. 20 in a road loss to the Hawks, to go with 12 rebounds and five assists.

“It’s definitely a big confidence booster,” Bridges said. “But I just want to stay consistent and keep winning big games. We have another big game against Boston, so I just want to keep it going. As long as we stay consistent, even when we play against bad teams. We came off of a tough loss, but we just want to stay consistent and go into every game like it’s a playoff game.”

Bridges seemingly had 22 points in a New York minute, posting that many just in the first quarter to ensure the Hornets (24-20) didn’t have the same lethargic effort that doomed them three days earlier against the Eastern Conference cellar-dwelling Magic. He’s one of only four players in the league this season to record at least 20 points in the opening 12 minutes.

“He was awesome tonight,” coach James Borrego said. “High-level performance. His confidence, the spirit he played with led us to this victory. Miles was fantastic.”

That kind of show-stopping outing just off Broadway should increase his chances of earning two distinguished honors over the upcoming months. If not, it might make him go that much harder.

It’s time for Bridges to start garnering serious consideration as a reserve in next month’s All-Star Game in Cleveland, and as a candidate for the NBA’s most improved player honors. His cooling-off period appears complete.

He dropped from eighth to ninth in the second return of fan voting, checking in with 230,586 votes. He’s behind Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant (29.3 points per game, 7.4 rebounds per game), Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo (28.5 ppg, 11.3 rpg), Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid (27.3 ppg, 10.5 rpg), Boston’s Jason Tatum (25.5 ppg, 8.6 rpg), Miami’s Jimmy Butler (22.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg), Cleveland’s Jarrett Allen (16.6 ppg, 10.9 rpg), Miami’s Bam Adebayo (18.7 ppg, 10.2 rpg) and Toronto’s Pascal Siakam (21.1 ppg, 8.5 rpg).

Fan voting represents 50 percent of the formula for naming starters. The players themselves and the media each have 25 percent say in who gets the starting nod.

“I feel like I just got out of a slump before Christmas, and I feel I’m getting back on track now,” Bridges said. “ My teammates have been doing a great job. Gordon (Hayward), Melo and Terry (Rozier) have been staying on me about staying aggressive and it’s been paying off. So I just want to keep getting better and stay aggressive for my team.”

He’s done that and more in his fourth season and is on track for a lucrative payday this summer when he hits restricted free agency thanks to his increased production. Already with seven games of 30 points or better this season, he’s more than doubled his career total in that category after achieving it three times in his initial three seasons.

Coincidentally, two of his 30-plus point games occurred at the Garden, which is perhaps why they were groaning whenever he made a move toward the basket or uncorked a jumper from long distance. Bridges is only the second player in franchise history with multiple games of 30 or more at the world’s most famous arena. The other is the person who was hugging him and giving him their personal handshake while he conducted an on-court postgame interview with Bally Sports Southeast. That would be Kemba Walker.

Across the board, Bridges’ statistics have improved in virtually all of the key categories. Besides serving as the Hornets’ leading scorer at 20 points per game, his 7.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists are a huge boost. The latter nearly represents an increase of 1.5 per game compared to a year ago. That wasn’t a huge aspect of his game during his two seasons at Michigan State or in his early days with the Hornets.

It changed somewhat last season when Gordon Hayward got injured and the Hornets had to find other means to engineer the offense outside of Ball, who also missed his share of action recovering from wrist surgery.

“Yeah, we put the ball in his hands a ton,” Borrego said. “We have a number of guys we play through offensively. We just find something we like and we play off that guy certain nights. And Miles is one of those guys that can make plays off the bounce to score for himself or getting to the rim. Obviously, he is elite getting to the rim but he’s also done a great job playmaking for us, making decisions — putting the ball in his hands to create, kick to a teammate or go finish. So I thought he had a great balance between scoring and playmaking tonight.”

About the lone category Bridges hasn’t made a hefty leap in is beyond the 3-point arc. He’s shooting 32.5 percent from 3-point territory, which is down slightly from his career showing of 34.6 percent. But he sank 5 of 9 against the Knicks, making him that much more difficult to guard.

“Well, it just opens up his whole game because then it’s tough,” Borrego said. “You can pressure him. He’ll get downhill. If you back off on him he’s going to be able to make that three. So it’s just a balance and those are the elite in our league. The ones that can shoot it off the bounce or make plays from three and they can get to the rim.

“That’s a tough combination to find in today’s game, especially at his power and his size. When he’s making threes he’s a tough cover.”

Ask the Knicks. They’ll concur.

“High school, I scored 50 and all that, but college and NBA, I think that’s my career high,” Bridges said. “So let’s keep it going. I am more so happy with the win, happy that we got the win.”

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