Optimism is never lacking on draft night, and that was certainly the case Thursday after the NBA conducted its annual selection of players.
That’s especially true from Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr. and Miles Bridges, who became the sixth Spartans duo to go in the first round of the same draft. Jackson was taken No. 4 overall by the Memphis Grizzlies while Bridges was taken No. 12 by the L.A. Clippers then sent to the Charlotte Hornets for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who was taken with the 11th pick by the Hornets.
Some called Jackson the best shot-blocker in the draft with the potential to become a dominant NBA player, while Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak gushed about Bridges, saying, “There is not much to not like about Miles Bridges.”
How Jackson and Bridges each fit with their new teams, however, will be vital for them to have a chance to live up to expectations.
For the 6-foot-11 Jackson, there is little doubt the Grizzlies will be expecting an immediate impact, but at only 18 years old, some patience will be required with Jackson, who blocked a school-record 106 shots last season at Michigan State.
“Because he’s a young colt type of guy and got so much upside and room to grow doesn’t mean he can’t give you something right now,” Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace said.
Wallace indicated he’d initially like to use Jackson at both center and power forward, though the rotation could evolve.
The Grizzlies have a couple of solid veterans in guard Mike Conley and center Marc Gasol that can help bring along a young player like Jackson, who could end up taking some minutes from former Spartan Deyonta Davis, who played in 62 games last season as a primary backup to Gasol.
“I definitely want to come in and do whatever it takes to win, but at the same time I know that I’m young and I think that there’s always growing to go,” Jackson said. “Every player has to go through a lot of growing curves and I think with the vets they got there, it’ll help me speed up the process because you got a guy like Marc Gasol, who can give me the ins and outs of being a big, and you’re playing with a point guard like Mike Conley, who’s just ridiculous. He’s just ridiculous. He’s so smart. I’ve been watching him play for years, and they’re established.”
In Charlotte, some were hoping the Hornets ended up with Michael Porter Jr., but concerns about his back injury saw him drop to No. 14. That put the Hornets in position to take end up with the 6-7 Bridges after working a deal with the Clippers.
The Hornets believe they know what they’re getting – a versatile defender who could use his athleticism to become a better offensive option than current small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
“He can guard at least three, maybe four positions,” Kupchak said. “I think he’s ready to help us immediately in that area. He plays hard, he’s a great kid. He’s very athletic, comes from a good program and I think he’s going to get better and better.
“Offensively, I think he’s going to have to work on parts of his game that would be conducive to playing in the NBA.”
For a player that averaged 17 points a game as a sophomore at Michigan State, that means being able to score off the dribble as well as becoming a more consistent shooter.
“I want to get better at ball handling so I can create my own shot and just be a threat everywhere on the floor from the three to mid-range 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.”