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Battle of the Bridges: Mikal vs. Miles

Photo: Bailey Carlin/TKW Illustration

Which collegiate stud at the wing position should New York value higher when they select at no. 9 next week—Miles or Mikal?

Okay folks, draft season is in full swing. Once again, our beloved Knicks are in the lottery. And once again, we all have that one prospect we know will be the GOAT. Two names that have been at the tip of every Knicks fan’s tongue are Miles and Mikal Bridges. Today, we throw the figurative fisticuffs in what has become the most-discussed prospect debate surrounding the ‘Bockers—which Bridges to take.

We’ll do this pickup basketball style with Eli Cohen and Kevin Gamgort arguing on behalf of Mikal, while Ty Jordan and Mike Cortez will make their case for Miles. Simple right? Cool, let’s get our First Take on.


Opening Statements

Mike: My base argument for Miles is quite simple. There is no one like him on this roster. That is something you cannot say for Mikal, whose skills overlap with Tim Hardaway Jr., Damyean Dotson (who has been putting in WORK this summer), and Courtney Lee. Miles, on the other hand, possesses athleticism that was barren from the roster for far too long. Since He Who Must Not Be Named traded J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert, there has been no bounce to this roster. Miles can jump to the moon in a single bound. His presence would immediately open the floor so Hardaway Jr. can finally have someone to run with.

The lack of overlap with Miles also pertains to the position. Yes, he is a wing like Mikal, but while he can also play the two he may be at his best as a small-ball four. I know I’m stating the obvious when I say Mikal’s arms look like Olive Garden breadsticks, but can you really expect him to guard a 4 or 5 if he’s switched on to him? I know Miles can.

Tyler: One of the most important issues the Knicks need to address is finding someone to take the scoring load off of Porzingis. Whether his midseason fatigue was a result of poor conditioning, poor coaching, poor supporting cast, or combination of all three, it highlighted the issue of someone needing to take pressure off of KP. When Porzingis can’t score on every possession, and Timmy is neutralized by the defense—or even by his own extreme streakiness—the Knicks need a guy who can get them a bucket in different ways. Who better than the stretch forward with a bag of tricks to take the burden?

Operating under the assumption that Porzingis can still run the floor as a power forward, Miles Bridges being selected ninth overall would be the best case scenario for the Knicks. Miles is an athlete who will give defenders fits as he slashes to the inside. Throughout his college career, he’s shown that he can get to the rim and bang with defenders. His shooting game isn’t to be taken lightly either, even at this stage of his career. Miles shot over 50 percent from two-point field goals during his time at Michigan State where his role on offense was as eclectic as they come (per Sports Reference).

With effective shooters in Hardaway Jr., Miles Bridges, and Porzingis playing outside-in basketball, defenses are sure to break down as they either collapse the lane for fear of THJ or Bridges coming away with a slam or spread themselves thin to close out on the shooters. Either way, Bridges’ ability to get to the rim and his fearlessness as a shooter would open things up whether the lineup slides forward for a small-ball lineup or commits to convention.

Kevin: You know the old saying, defense wins championships. New head coach David Fizdale has made it clear that he wants to make the Knicks a defensive-minded team. What better way of doing this than drafting arguably the best two-way player in the draft? Especially one who prides himself on his defensive play. 

Mikal Bridges is an unbelievable talent that blossomed during his time at Villanova. With so many boom or bust players in the upcoming draft, Bridges is a very safe selection at the ninth overall spot, especially for a Knicks team who is in need of a forward. You know what you’re getting out of Bridges. A true team player with a defense-first mentality who has come from a winning culture. The addition of Bridges would point toward Fizdale’s defensive-minded focus while also adding another young piece to the roster. Off the court, Bridges is known as a reserved individual, one who stays out of the spotlight as much as possible. At Villanova University, Bridges was the ideal player you would want on your team. He bought into the Nova culture right away, which included redshirting his freshman year, and buying into the team-first mentality.

With a coach that garners immense respect from his players in Fizdale, I think Bridges would buy into the Knicks from the get-go. He is the safest pick and one that would be foolish to pass on if available at the ninth selection. All this hype and we haven’t even begun to touch on his offensive ability and upside. …

Cross-Examination

TyMikal was a key part of the championship Villanova team, but that doesn’t offer an accurate forecast of how he’ll fare in the NBA. Mikal’s defensive pressure is a plus, but as far as his offensive capabilities go, he leaves a lot to be desired. The small-ball center defensive specialist is the NBA’s latest overblown obsession since the rise of Draymond Green. Green’s place on his team cannot be overstated, but he’s free to put up the awkward, support-heavy stat lines he does because he’s surrounded by two of the greatest shooters of all time and three players who will go down as first-ballot hall of famers—with all three being elite three-point shooters. The Knicks don’t have that luxury and never will. Best case scenario, Hardaway Jr. becomes consistent and Frank Ntilikina learns to knock down open looks. A spot up 3-and-D guy isn’t sufficient. The Knicks need more than Justin Holiday in 2018.

As a lanky 6’6” 190-pound 21-year-old, Mikal Bridges may have been able to push around 19 and 20-year-old guard-forwards, but forwards in the NBA are a bit more sturdy and a hair more athletic. Ntilikina shared the same criticism, but as a player who’ll be facing NBA strong men at both of the forward spots (the Knicks’ greatest positions of need), Mikal’s greatest strength could quickly become a joke in the NBA.

Eli: It’s true that even when Porzingis returns fully healthy, there will still be buckets that need getting. Relying too much on the ever-inconsistent Tim Hardaway is a scary proposition, but the 26-year-old showed that he can generally be counted on as a second option on offense, especially as he continues to improve at attacking the basket, where he was surprisingly dangerous last season. The question then becomes: can Mikal Bridges be the third option that picks up the slack when Timmy has an off night?

In my eyes, the answer is a resounding yes. Mikal’s 3-and-D floor is one of the most sought-after archetypes in the league right now, and while he won’t be able to switch onto centers for the first couple years of his career, his defensive intensity (and of course that wingspan) should allow him to switch 1-4 from day one, even with a sizable weight disadvantage. But offensively, there’s way more potential there, even at the geriatric age of 22 as a future rookie, waiting to be exposed.

Mikal improved basically every aspect of his game each season at Villanova. While he took (and made) a lot of stationary shots off the catch, he also became more adept at flying off screens, shooting over the top of defenders, and scoring off of pin-downs. He developed a little crossover-hesi jumper, and though he wasn’t habitually roasting defenders off the dribble, he showed more than a few hints of shot-creation ability. Get him a trainer who forces him to improve the handle (also, get Frank and Porzingis that trainer while you’re at it) and I’m willing to pass up on the very real appeal of Miles. Mikal Bridges is the kind of guy I want in at the end of a close game, and the thought of him, Frankie Smokes, and the Unicorn smothering fools with their ridiculous combined wingspan gives me goosebumps. Get me Mikal. Now.

Mike: Hey watch it on the Timmy slander! He has been as consistent as the weather in the past, but he has also been putting in some serious work in the gym. I will agree that a defense of Frankie, KP, and Mikal would be insanity. It would be the defense that the Bucks have been trying to have since Giannis leveled up.

I can definitely see Mikal slide into that third scorer’s role. My question is— what happens on the nights that Timmy is cold or Porzingis is out? Do you believe Mikal is equipped to be the leading man, even if it’s for one night? I’m not so sure. At Nova, he steadily improved and played his role as good as any. However, he did also have the luxury of sharing the floor with some gifted scorers.

Enlighten me if I’m wrong, but does he have a move in his repertoire that he can go to continuously? He’s a marksman for sure and can fill the role Courtney Lee played the past two seasons, but I put their offensive ceiling around the same. Lee had his best season in 2017 and it did not move the needle for the team. Miles could space the floor like Mikal in addition to being a breakaway freight train in the open floor. Neither player has much of a post game but Miles’ 220-pound frame is certainly equipped to bang down low.

Kevin: Give him some credit. In just a few years at Nova, Mikal Bridges developed from an underweight redshirt freshman into a Julius Erving Award winner and one the best players in college basketball. He came into Villanova as an unpolished offensive game, and left as one of the top scorers in the nation. His defensive ability is already at an elite level coming out of college, and if he can further develop his offensive game, (which he’s proven to do in just a short time at Villanova) he has the makings to be a superstar. Look, in a game where Hardaway is off, and/ or Porzingis is out with injury, you never really know who’s going to step up. It could even be Ron Baker for all you know. But why wouldn’t a guy who played a pivotal role on both sides of the floor for a team that won the national championship two of the past three years have a chance to do that? I am pretty confident that Mikal Bridges can step up immediately.

As for Miles Bridges, what makes you so confident that he can step up and carry the Knicks offense? I know he was the “guy” at Michigan State, but many times, he got caught trying to do too much for the Spartans. This led to him playing wildly on offense, which led to increased turnovers. Bridges is used to bullying his way down the lane by taking advantage of his large frame. This won’t work at the next level. Especially with his 6-6 height and 6-9 wingspan, which make him slightly undersized at the small forward position and significantly small for a 4. Additionally, he is not a great ball handler, and his post game needs improvement to succeed at the next level. Miles Bridges will need to change many facets of his game to succeed in the NBA, unlike Mikal Bridges, who is one of the most NBA ready in the Draft. Miles Bridges seems like one of those players whose potential peaked in college, and has the upside of being a solid undersized role player in the NBA. With the ninth overall pick in the draft, you want to take a player with superstar upside. That player is Mikal Bridges.

Ty: Miles Bridges averaged two turnovers this previous season, a hair down from his 2.4 average as a freshman, while increasing his assists per game from 2.1 to 2.7, both of which are greater than Mikal Bridges’ assist averages in all three years at Villanova. Jaren Jackson Jr. next to him should have hurt him a lot more statistically, but he managed to co-exist with another college star, impressively enough. That speaks more about his transition than his physical stats. The limited minutes he’d see as a small-ball power forward pales in comparison to how he’ll be able to strong-arm wing players sent after him on defense, especially when he can run a fast break as both the ball handler and the roll man. Small-ball 4’s are there to run the floor with lightning-quick guards while providing muscle, not stand in the paint in an iso-heavy offense.

This also refutes the point that his novice ball handling skills are a big minus; it isn’t much of a problem if he’s not running the point. Granted, one point of contention that must be conceded is that Miles Bridges leaves much to be desired as a post player. So, it’s a good thing he isn’t. What is attractive about his offensive game, is his ability to score in multiple ways. He can shoot the three at a respectable clip, is solid from mid-range, and he’s fearless at getting to the rim through traffic. Parlaying those qualities into solid post play sounds easier for him than it does for a catch-and-shoot wing. Plus, as a 20-year-old, Miles Bridges has more than enough time to develop these key areas.

Closing Statements

TyMiles Bridges is the no. 9 pick the Knicks need if they want to begin rebuilding their forward spots. Carmelo Anthony’s exit left a huge void, leaving him the keys to play an essential, albeit, small part in the offense early in his career. His physical shortcomings—which are null in where he operates best (open space)—are legitimate concerns, but his offensive upside and potential to be a tenacious defender in a team defense-oriented system are more than enough to compensate for his lack of wingspan.

MikeMiles is the superior Bridges because his athleticism, coupled with his righteous shooting stroke, is exactly what the Knicks need. So while Mikal is a respectable prospect in his own right, Miles checks about the same boxes while not overlapping with the current roster. An improved Dotson and Hardaway, along with a Courtney Lee in limbo, is just enough of a possible traffic jam at the swingman position, that Miles’ ability to play the 3 and 4 gives should him the edge as the top Bridges prospect.

KevinIf we’re debating Bridges, it’s no question that Mikal is the better pick for the Knicks with the no. 9 selection. The Knicks need to make a smart pick. They need a player with established parts to his game, and is a proven winner. New York also needs a player who is a positive locker room presence. Mikal Bridges excels at both perimeter defense and three-point shooting, while Miles clearly needs more development. For a young team that wants to become defensive-minded, choosing Mikal Bridges will further solidify that creed.

EliMikal Bridges has the ability to be a second or third option while also being the most likely to keep the ball moving and make winning plays. I’ve seen enough mid-range iso’s in my lifetime as a Knicks fan, and even though I like Miles Bridges a lot, my first thought when I think of his second season at MSU is a guy dribbling out of open looks into contested midrange jumpers. Mikal Bridges may never be Paul George, but I could see him contributing to an actual title contender more seamlessly than Miles. If you’re concerned about scoring, don’t be. Scorers come a dime a dozen in this league (hi, J.R. Swish). Wings who have the potential to be elite on both ends, on the other hand, are the most valuable commodity in the league.

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