CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Miles Bridges’ versatility convinced Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak to take a chance on him in the first round.
Bridges is thrilled he did.
The Hornets wound up with the Michigan State wingman in the first round of the NBA draft after trading down one spot with the LA Clippers.
Charlotte initially selected point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander from Kentucky with the 11th overall pick, but traded him to the Clippers for the 12th overall pick and second-round picks in 2020 and 2021. The Clippers then selected Bridges for the Hornets.
“He’s one of the highest character players in the draft, very athletic, plays hard, and he’s very versatile,” Kupchak said. “… There is not much to not like about Miles Bridges.”
Charlotte later traded up to No. 34 overall with Atlanta to draft Kansas point guard Devonte Graham, a consensus All-American who averaged 17.3 points and 7.2 assists per game last season. Graham, who is from Raleigh, North Carolina, is expected to backup two-time All-Star Kemba Walker, providing the team doesn’t trade him. The Hornets surrendered second round picks in 2019 and 2023 to get him.
Charlotte initially took shooting guard Hamiduo Diallo from Kentucky at No. 45 as part of the impending trade that will send Dwight Howard to the Brooklyn Nets, but then sent his rights to Oklahoma City.
The Hornets drafted Arnoldas Kulboka from Lithunia at No. 55.
Kupchak said Bridges can play both the three and four position on offense at the NBA level just as he did at Michigan State, and also has the size and athleticism to guard four positions on defense.
The 6-foot-7, 225-pound Bridges was a unanimous All-Big 10 first team choice after averaging 17 points and seven rebounds last season for the Spartans. He ranked sixth in the Big Ten in scoring last season, 11th in rebounding and fourth in free throw percentage (85.3 percent).
Bridges is expected to be a better offensive option at small forward than starter Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who is considered a strong defender but not a great scorer. Bridges has an NBA ready body and is one of the most explosive leapers in the draft. He scored frequently on perimeter spot ups and off screens while with the Spartans as well as on pick and roll opportunities.
“I want to get better at ballhandling so I can create my own shot and just be a threat everywhere on the floor from the 3 to midrange to getting to the basket,” Bridges said. “I definitely want to be more aggressive. I felt like in my college career I could have been more aggressive.”
Bridges did not work out for the Hornets despite the team’s repeated attempts to bring him in. Bridges said he had planned to visit after working out in Los Angeles, but “something popped up.”
Some Hornets fans on social media were upset over the team’s decision to pass on Michael Porter Jr., who went two picks later to the Denver Nuggets at No. 14.
Kupchak said the team had talked extensively about Porter in the weeks leading up the draft but decided to “move in a different direction” after he cancelled the playing portion of his scheduled workout in Chicago.
Kupchak is off to a busy start as Hornets general manager.
His decision to trade down comes one day after agreeing to trade eight-time All-Star center Dwight Howard to the Brooklyn Nets for center Timofey Mozgov and two second-round draft picks, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press. The person spoke to the AP on Wednesday on condition of anonymity because the league cannot approve the deal until the trade moratorium ends on July 6.
The 32-year-old Howard was due to make $23.8 million in the final year of his contract next season.
The Hornets failed to make the playoffs last season for the third time in four seasons, prompting owner Michael Jordan to part ways with general manager Rich Cho and coach Steve Clifford.
Kupchak hired James Borrego as the team’s new head coach in May.