Michigan State's Miles Bridges had a chance to leave college for the NBA. What if he made the jump?
Perhaps the most surprising announcement at the draft withdrawal deadline last spring was Miles Bridges’s decision to come back for his sophomore season. Bridges had been showing up as a possible lottery pick in mocks, yet he’d chosen to pass on guaranteed millions for another year in East Lansing. Bridges’s return put Michigan State firmly in the national championship picture and made it the obvious favorite to win the Big Ten. It turns out, however, that the Spartans, which currently hold the No. 2 slot in our projections, would not have slipped that far without him. A Bridges-less Spartans squad would have began 2017-18 ranked sixth in the country, still well ahead of the Big Ten’s No. 2 squad, Purdue (which we discuss in more detail above).
Even if Bridges bolted for the pros, Michigan State still would have had a premier big man to hold down its front court in Nick Ward, an ace shot-blocker, foul-drawer and rebounder who posted one of the 20 highest usage percentages in the country last season. Ward was hampered by foul trouble as a freshman, but he should play more often this season. He and incoming power forward Jaren Jackson Jr., the No. 9 prospect in the class of 2017 RSCI, would have provided the Spartans with the foundation of a sturdier defense than the one that failed to consistently get stops in 2016-17 chiefly because of insufficient frontcourt depth. Michigan State also would have Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter back after both forwards sat out last season with knee injuries.
Still, removing Bridges—who can play both forward positions but is expected to spend more time at the 3 in 2017-18—from the roster would have affected the Spartans’ rotations on the perimeter and in the post. Head coach Tom Izzo would lose an efficient, high-volume scorer, shifting more of the shot-creating burden onto players like Jackson and sophomores Ward, Joshua Langford and Cassius Winston, with consequent reductions in offensive efficiency.