They teamed up to win a Big Ten regular-season championship at Michigan State and now Jaren Jackson Jr. and Miles Bridges are hoping to become the latest Spartans duo to be taken in the first round of the NBA Draft.
Jackson, the 6-foot-11 forward who left Michigan State after his freshman season, and the 6-7 Bridges, who played two seasons for the Spartans, are both expected to go in the top half of the first round when the draft commences on Thursday from the Barclays Center in New York.
With Jackson projected as high as the third pick and Bridges seen by most as going somewhere in the middle of the first round, it would be the sixth time Michigan State has had two players taken in the first round and the second time in the last five years.
“Draft in 3 days,” Bridges said this week on Twitter. “Can’t explain how I’m feeling, I don’t care if I go 1st or 60th I’m just thankful and blessed that God even put me in the conversation. Thank You Lord for this opportunity!”
Both players have been going through their share of workouts with different teams. Bridges most recently worked out for the Cavaliers and 76ers while Jackson reportedly wowed the Phoenix Suns staff and then went through a one-hour workout with the Hawks, who own the No. 3 pick that many believe they might use to take Jackson.
Jackson has created the most buzz since announcing he was leaving Michigan State after his freshman season. He remains intriguing because at 18 years old, he is still raw. However, he has the sort of game NBA teams are desperate to land.
In his one season at Michigan State, Jackson averaged 10.9 points and 5.8 rebounds while blocking a single season program-record 106 shots and shooting 39.6 percent from 3-point range. But he was plagued by foul trouble and averaged just more than 21 minutes a game with the Spartans.
“I think he’ll be able to impact the game in his rookie season in terms of bringing energy and blocking shots and switching screens and making an occasional three,” ESPN scouting analyst Mike Schmitz said this week. “But if you look, he’s one of the youngest players in the draft. … So I think you’re going to have probably some wow games where he hits three 3s and blocks five shots and guards on the perimeter against a Damian Lillard or C.J. McCollum and then other games where he picks up three fouls in the first six minutes and gives you a goose egg.
“I do think it’s going to take him a little bit of time to kind of maximize who he is, but that’s what you get with 18-year-olds.”
If the projections prove correct and Jackson does go in the top three, it would be a position bested only by Magic Johnson, who went No. 1 overall in 1979 and three spots ahead of teammate Greg Kelser, who went No. 4 overall. Since then, the highest an MSU player was selected was No. 5 overall with Steve Smith (1991) and Jason Richardson (2001), which is also the last time a Spartan has been taken in the top 10.
“He’s a really intriguing, young player,” Suns GM Ryan McDonough said of Jackson. “Obviously, like any 18- or 19-year-old he has certain things he needs to work on but there aren’t a lot of holes in his game.”
As for Bridges, some of the hype has waned since he returned to Michigan State for his sophomore season. However, that hasn’t changed what he could become in the NBA.
The explosive wing can play multiple positions and has the ability to defend in a league that values versatility.
“My confidence coming into every workout is through the roof,” Bridges told the 76ers’ team website. “I can guard any player on the court. Offense or defense, they can put me at any position.”
Bridges especially liked his workout with the 76ers, saying the energy of the coaching and support staff reminded him of Michigan State, and coach Brett Brown reminded him of Michigan State’s Tom Izzo.
Whether he ends up in Philadelphia remains to be seen, but Bridges did add he thinks the extra year of college helped.
“I think I’m more seasoned, more mature,” Bridges said. “I come into every workout with a lot of energy. I think last year I would have come in nonchalant, so that’s what I learned from another year at Michigan State.”