Hornets’ Miles Bridges looks to continue early-season success

Charlotte’s longest-tenured player, in just his fourth NBA season, is emerging as a nightly threat

Miles Bridges' improved play at both ends of the floor has helped the Hornets to a 3-1 start and earned him the season's first Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors. (John Minchillo / AP Photo)

CHARLOTTE — Just four games into his fourth year in the league, the Charlotte Hornets’ longest-tenured player has shown that his increased offensive production during the final months of last season was no fluke.

Miles Bridges earned the Eastern Conference Player of the Week award on Monday for his efforts in the first week of the regular season, becoming just the 13th player in franchise history to win it.

“It validates his work — where his career’s at, how hard he’s worked to get to this point,” Hornets coach James Borrego said of Bridges’ latest achievement. “I know the award is probably recognized for the offense, but he’s doing as much defensively for us as the offense. So he deserves a ton of credit and I’m very proud of him.”

With last year’s leading scorer Terry Rozier largely absent due to a lingering ankle injury, Bridges has emerged as a leader for a youthful group that is talented but still searching for an identity.

During Charlotte’s 3-1 start to the season, Bridges has led his team in scoring in wins over Cleveland and Brooklyn, as well as Monday’s overtime loss to Boston. Bridges has averaged team-highs in points (25.0) and minutes (35.3) while also ranking second on the Hornets with 8.5 rebounds — all improvements over the 29.3 minutes, 12.7 points and six rebounds he averaged last season.

“He’s one of our best snap drivers to the rim right now,” Borrego said. “He’s finishing at a high level, competing on the other end. Guarding Kevin Durant, James Harden, (Malcolm) Brogdon — he’s taken on the challenge defensively as well.”

The former Michigan State star got off to a slower start last year and led Charlotte in scoring just seven times during the 2020-21 campaign, all within the final three months of play.

Following the Hornets’ 111-95 win over Brooklyn on Sunday, Bridges said the team’s intensity and strengthened scoring attack — Charlotte currently ranks second in the NBA in points per game with 121.5, just trailing the 123.3 points averaged by Memphis (2-1) — were fueling its success.

“You can feel a different vibe from this year,” Bridges said. “We just have a willingness to win. We all want to win, and we’re willing to do whatever it takes.”

The win over the Nets made this year’s Hornets the first in franchise history to start the season with three straight wins, and Bridges joined Kemba Walker as only the second Charlotte player to score 30 points or more twice in the team’s first three games of a season.

Charlotte fell short of making it to 4-0, succumbing to a 14-0 run in overtime by the Celtics on Monday for its first loss of the season.

With 1:21 left on the clock, Boston’s Jaylen Brown went up for an athletic one-handed dunk over Bridges to extend the Celtics’ lead to 134-129. The Hornets went on to lose by 11 points.

“Miles is one of the best athletes in the league, and I know that if I try to lay it up, he’s going to send me back to Boston,” Brown said. “So I went up with bad intentions.”

Bridges acknowledged Brown’s posterizing dunk after the game on Twitter, adding that he had no regrets about jumping up to guard Brown in the paint: “Tough loss!! We’ll bounce back!! Also imma jump every time down 3 in an overtime game or anytime the game is on the line!! Helluva play!!”

Rozier responded to the tweet with some encouragement for his teammate, saying Bridges had “no need to explain” his reasoning for challenging a dunk in a tight game.

That competitive nature Bridges possesses is just one component of his breakout star potential in what has become an important season for his career trajectory. The Hornets’ front office decided late in the offseason to hold off on a contract extension for the small forward, choosing to make this a “prove-it year” for him.

So far, Bridges has passed the test with flying colors.

It’s unclear if Borrego will give him 38 minutes on the court every night — like he did while Rozier and sixth-man P.J. Washington both were out of the lineup — but Bridges has demonstrated that he can pick up the slack for the Hornets on both sides of the court as one of the league’s emerging players.