In the third edition of our tale of the tape series, we’ll break down college basketball’s most talented Bridges: Miles and Mikal. Check out our DeAndre Ayton vs. Marvin Bagley and Trae Young vs. Collin Sexton film studies if you missed them.
Let’s get to it.
Here's what Miles and Mikal have done this season. We're using per-40 averages to adjust for different minute loads.
Miles has a slight edge in the traditional counting stats – points, rebounds and assists – but Mikal has been significantly more efficient, and has made more of a defensive impact. Mikal’s advantages stand out more than Miles’.
Slight edge: Mikal
Miles is a straight-up powerhouse. His combination of strength and explosiveness is unparalleled. This dunk highlight reel speaks for itself:
The 40-plus-inch vertical leap is tantalizing, but it’s not that rare. What is rare? To parlay those hops with the strength of a Michigan State linebacker. You don’t just see Miles’ dunks – you hear them. He uses that strength and athleticism combination in more pragmatic ways, too – Miles can get to the paint whenever he feels like it, and if an opponent is daring enough to switch a smaller defender onto him, Miles bullies him for a bucket. Slot a less coordinated big onto him, and he leaves him in the dust. Miles’ athletic gifts make the game much, much easier for him.
Mikal is a different kind of athletic – he’s more graceful than Miles, but doesn’t have the same pure power. He’s not weak by any means – Mikal is wiry, and doesn’t lose any ground when banging with bigger players in the post. But he’s also not backing anyone down on the other end, like Miles can. Mikal has better side-to-side quickness; that’s evident in his perimeter defense. But if we’re grading these guys on an athletic scale of one to 10, Miles is a 10. Mikal is a nine.
Slight edge: Miles
It’s bonkers how much Mikal has improved his outside jumper between now and when he was a freshman.
He played 20.3 minutes per game on Villanova’s national title squad. Outside of the talent ahead of him, Mikal’s suspect jumper was the biggest reason he didn’t play more. He shot 29.9 percent from 3 on less than two attempts per game.
Now, he’s shooting 46 percent from deep on 5.3 attempts per game, and confidence oozes from him. His coach believes in his stroke, too – so much that Jay Wright draws up several plays per game specifically designed to get Mikal an open 3.
This, right here, is beautiful. Omari Spellman acts like he’s going to set a ball screen for Jalen Brunson, but veers off at the last minute to set a pin down pick for Mikal. Johnathan Williams creeps too far up onto Brunson, and Brunson’s man is lost – he chases Spellman on the roll. This confuses Rui Hachimura, who hesitates for a split-second.
Too late. Mikal’s lightning-quick release earns him bonus points, by the way. He swishes this:
Mikal is a textbook off-the-catch sniper, and his off-the-dribble game is improving. This is lofty praise, but his development at Villanova is Kawhi Leonard-esque.
And to Miles’ credit, he’s a much better shooter than most predicted when he arrived at Michigan State. Miles shot 39 percent from 3 last year – he’s down to 34 as a sophomore, but he’s certainly not lacking in confidence. Neither is Tom Izzo.
Check out this elaborate sequence against Rutgers:
Kenny Goins nails Miles’ defender with back-to-back picks, and it gives him just enough breathing room to fire. Because he’s playing more small forward this year, Miles is being asked to do more wing stuff – like pop off of screens and be the primary ball-handler in screen-roll actions. He’s fared well, but he’s a natural power forward. His release isn’t as fluid as Mikal’s, and he’s not nearly as efficient.
Miles is a passable outside shooter; Mikal has turned into an elite one.
This isn’t a huge part of either player’s game. The difference? It should be a bigger part of Miles’ game, because he’s better at it.
Good luck stopping this:
Here, there are three guys in position to stop him, but Miles just lowers his head and plows though them:
Part of the reason Izzo can play Miles out of position is because he can space the floor and get to the rim at will. He’s not a great ball-handler, but he’s a capable one; combine that with his football build and explosiveness, and Miles could live at the free-throw line. He’s only getting there 2.7 times per game this season – part of that is Michigan State’s personnel, but Miles could stand to attack the basket more.
The Spartans use Miles as an off-ball cutter and a ball-screen facilitator. Mikal plays with one of the best point guards in the country in Brunson, so he mostly just needs to worry about curling around screens, spotting up, and attacking defenses already in disarray thanks to Brunson or Phil Booth.
As we saw last year – when Michigan State wasn’t as talented as it is now – that you can run an NCAA tournament-caliber offense through Miles. Mikal has played on three great teams, and has thrived in a secondary offensive role. But we’ve never seen him be the guy. Miles’ transcendent athletic package makes life easier for everyone on the floor.
Mikal has been an outstanding perimeter defender from the moment he put on a Villanova jersey. At 6-7 with a 7-foot wingspan, he’s got the prototypical build of a wing stopper. But his timing and instincts are what set him apart.
The below sequence is remarkable for a few reasons. Mikal shuts down three different players in a 13-second clip:
Mikal is originally guarding the ball-handler, and dodges the screen to stay at his man’s hip. The Villanova big switches, so Mikal takes his man without hesitation, effectively stopping any post entry. Then, he helps Donte DiVincenzo when his man has a step, and recovers back to his own in a pinch.
First: it’s incredible that Mikal can guard pretty much anyone on the floor, as we see here. It doesn’t matter if he’s a back-to-the-basket center, a wing, or a speedy point guard. Second: Mikal knows exactly when he should switch onto someone else’s guy, and exactly when he should stunt and recover. His combination of athletic tools and feel is off the charts, and it’s why he’s the best perimeter defender in the country. Opponents score 87.2 points per 100 possessions with Mikal on the floor; no other Wildcat has a defensive rating below 90.
Miles is a good defender – he’s stout in the post thanks to his strength, and can stay with smaller guys thanks to his speed. But he doesn’t have the defensive instincts or lateral quickness Mikal does, and simply isn’t as much of a disruptor on that end.
Big edge: Mikal
Man, this one is hard. Miles is a cinder block as a post defender. Let’s say DeAndre Ayton has the ball with his back to the basket, seven feet away from the hoop. Miles has a better chance to hold firm due to his build.
But Mikal can get up like Miles can, and has better rim-protecting instincts. On the first possession of the St. Joseph’s game, Mikal is guarding the opposing center, but doesn’t abandon him and still blocks the shot. To do this without selling out and leaving the big open for an offensive putback is rare:
You don’t see that kind of stuff from Miles, but he’s also not as prone to getting backed down by a strong, skilled center as Mikal is. Mikal is the better weakside helper. Miles is the better post defender. Side note: you could play either of these guys at center on defense, and probably be fine. That’s crazy.
Perhaps the biggest knock on Mikal: he’s never been asked to be a distributor, so he’s never shown he can do it. Then again: Brunson is the Villanova point guard, so why would he?Miles is at his best when he sets a ball screen, catches a pass with a head of steam, and either rumbles to the rim for a dunk or kicks out to an open shooter. That’s what made him so lethal as a small-ball four as a freshman; we haven’t seen it as much as a sophomore because of the position switch, but it’s there. The proof is in the assist totals: Miles has averaged more than Mikal every step of the way.
Considering how much he’s grown as a shooter, expect Mikal to add this to his game at some point. But right now, Miles is the more proven playmaker. His vision is an underrated aspect of his game.
So, so tough. Let’s put it this way. If you have an average surrounding roster and need a guy to take you to the NCAA tournament, Miles is the better choice. But if you have a star player, a star coach and other quality role players? Mikal is the killer sidekick that can raise you to a national championship level. Mikal probably couldn’t have led Michigan State to the 2017 NCAA tournament, but Miles wouldn’t fit into No. 1 Villanova’s scheme as well as Mikal does.
Truly, it’s a toss-up. But Mikal’s two best skills (perimeter defense and outside shooting) are absolutely essential in modern basketball, and he has significant edges in both categories.
Slight edge: Mikal