Is Bronny James Really THAT Good?
ESPNs Jonathan Givony shocked the basketball world when Bronny James made the Top 10 in his 1st 2024 Mock Draft. Corey Tulaba breaks down Bronny's game to decipher if he really is worth a Top 10 pick.
Last week Jonathan Givony of ESPN released his first mock draft for the 2024 NBA Draft. Matas Buzelis debuted as the projected #1 overall pick, but the online discourse had little to do with the names at the top of the graphic. Instead, what had drawn the attention of the Internet at large was the inclusion of Bronny James—son of LeBron James—in the early mock’s Top 10.
After catapulting himself into the lottery of the most viewed mock draft on the Internet, the question becomes: is Bronny actually…good? Has he really turned himself into a legitimate basketball prospect, or is this a product of the World Wide Leader fishing for Internet impressions?
Bronny has been a contentious basketball prospect over the last few years due to his lineage and has surely benefitted from the kind of attention that goes along with following in the footsteps of basketball royalty. But along with the attention that Bronny has garnered—which has led to nearly seven million Instagram followers and an NIL deal with Nike—comes the pressure to live up to it—a pressure that Bronny has handled and seemingly embraced as he continues to improve his game.
The elevator pitch for the undeclared senior guard—who plays his high school basketball at Sierra Canyon High School in Los Angeles, California—is that he is a hard-nosed defender with good passing vision, budding shooting potential, and interesting athletic tools.
James is listed at 6’3” and 180 pounds and toggles between both guard spots. While Bronny is a good athlete in his own right, he doesn’t share the same kind of generational frame and athleticism that his father had at the same age. That’s OK, because while some of the alley-oop dunks and passing highlights will remind you of LeBron Sr., Bronny is not his dad. The faster you can move past that fact, the faster you can evaluate Bronny James as a prospect without a bias either way.
Bronny isn’t an offensive system in and of himself. He’s not the kind of heliocentric creator that dominates usage and systematically picks apart a defensive unit that has to put all of their energy into stopping him. Rarely does he go out and look to get his own to the detriment of his team. Bronny is very much a guy who scores within the flow of the offense and does a lot of the little things that go unnoticed and may not show up on the stat sheet.
This shows in his ability to make decisions in transition. Bronny likes to play fast and push the pace, which is a skill set that should intrigue NBA teams as he continues to develop. He can show off his vertical by skying in for a rebound and initiating the break himself, or patiently run the secondary break where the extra space on the floor allows him to survey the court and get to spots that will allow him to get the ball to where it needs to go.
The open court is also where you see him get the most out of his bounce. When Bronny isn’t bringing the ball up himself, he can fill the wings and finish at the rim or sprint to the corners and space the floor out to the three-point line.
Bronny has also shown comfortability knocking down transition threes from NBA range when defenders don’t step up to stop him. Bronny has smooth repeatable mechanics and a versatile shot profile, which includes a developing pull-up game coming off ball screen actions.
In the halfcourt, Bronny is a shooting threat that can play off other initiators by spotting up and spacing the court or by creating shots for himself without the ball in his hands by running off of different movement actions.
If you aren’t an elite isolation creator at the guard spot, you have to be able to play off one. At this point in his development, if you are drafting Bronny to be a lead creator, you’re misusing your draft capital. If you have a primary initiator on hand, though, Bronny can be a smooth 3-and-D+ compliment that makes you pay if you leave him open while also having the ability to attack a closeout and attack the rim or make plays for his teammates.
Bronny is a high-feel guy, so when he gets downhill, he knows where the ball needs to go and how to get it there. He’s comfortable making live dribble hits with either hand, and he has excellent timing and placement on his passes. Bronny is a good playmaker off ball screens where he can hit the roller, weakside shooter, or drive and dish.
He can sometimes get caught by surprise and get into some trouble when a team decides to blitz him off the screen. He doesn’t have the wiggle to avoid it, or the height to see over the defense and cleanly get rid of it, but when he can anticipate the hard hedge coming early, he can throw some absolute dimes and get the ball to just about any spot on the court on a rope.
Bronny’s handle is fine at this point of his development, but it still needs to improve if he is to become a real scoring threat with the ball in his hands. He has shown flashes of generating space for jumpers off the bounce but can look a bit more stiff on drives, particularly going left, where he becomes quite predictable. Bronny doesn’t have an explosive first step to blow by his man, so when he is forced to his weak hand, he struggles to get all the way to the hoop. When that happens, things look clunky and awkward when he gets to the second level of the defense and has to make a scoring decision.
Bronny is much more likely to get all the way to the rim when he’s running out in transition, flying off a back-screen, or cutting backdoor where he can finish with space. When things get cramped, things get complicated, as he becomes more of a below-the-rim finisher. Bronny’s issue is that he will often try to go up and under instead of up and through defenders near the hoop. This leads to some awkward acrobatic finishes with a high level of difficulty that he fails to finish. He doesn’t have innate touch around the rim in the way Kyrie Irving does, but he’s still strong and athletic. If he becomes more focused on initiating contact, he should be able to use his frame to garner free throw attempts and up his overall finishing efficiency.
Even with some of his offensive improvement areas, Bronny has the kind of ancillary offensive skills that should allow him to play in any system and serve as a connector that keeps the offense flowing. A valuable NBA archetype.
On the other side of the ball, Bronny has a chance to really separate himself and stand out from his peers. Bronny takes real pride in defending and gets it done by not only using his physical tools, but also by thinking that side of the floor at a high level. You see his feel for the defensive side of the ball by the smart rotations that he makes and by his anticipation in the passing lanes. Most defenders who thrive in the passing lanes take chances and gamble often; Bronny uses his active hands and the ability to think a step ahead of the offense and anticipate the decision.
When he is defending at the point of attack, Bronny uses his strength to body up and play with his chest, his lateral ability to slide his feet, and his quick hands to frustrate ball handlers. Bronny even has a knack for transition chase downs.
It is Bronny’s ability to really defend that is going to garner most of the NBA comparisons you’ll hear over the next eighteen months.
If you’re betting on Bronny becoming a Top 10 pick, you’re betting on him to continue to get better at the rate that he has. You’re betting on the resources he has at his disposal and the character and work ethic he has shown. He might not be exciting as a Top 10 pick in February of 2023, but it isn’t out of the question for him to get there by June of 2024. It may seem far-fetched because his high school rank doesn’t jive with how we perceive typical Top 10 picks, but pre-college rankings and the number of stars before your name are NOT the end-all when evaluating a prospect’s NBA future. According to rivals, Brice Sensabaugh was ranked 69th nationally in his class. Taylor Hendricks was ranked 65th. Both guys are getting lotto buzz in this year’s NBA Draft.
I think there is a world in which Bronny has a chance to end up as a similar player stylistically and in role to Jalen Suggs—just a dog of a defender who can play on or off the ball, push the pace, and give your team an identity while he is on the court. If Bronny finds consistency in his jumper in the way that Jalen hasn’t yet in his young NBA career, maybe that is the separator between the two as eventual NBA prospects. It’s far from certain and may look like a reach as of today, but in what is perceived at the moment to be a weaker draft class, that is the path that Bronny has to becoming a potential Top 10 guy in 2024.