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Bronny James has a roadmap to the NBA despite playing nothing like his dad

Bronny James’ game is misunderstood. This is how he looks going into his senior year.

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The national spotlight on Bronny James’ basketball future started before he entered high school. The oldest son of LeBron James began drawing attention playing on the grassroots circuit weeks after his famous father left the Cleveland Cavaliers to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers in the summer of 2018. At the time, Bronny was a 13-year-old guard standing 5’10 who suddenly became the subject of intense interest as LeBron and his friends followed him from gym to gym.

James has now finished his junior season as Sierra Canyon, the LA-based powerhouse where he’s spent his entire high school career. As his father returned to Cleveland for the 2022 NBA All-Star Game, he added a new level of scrutiny to Bronny’s game when he confirmed his long-rumored desire to play with his son before he retires.

“My last year will be played with my son,” James told The Athletic. “Wherever Bronny is at, that’s where I’ll be. I would do whatever it takes to play with my son for one year. It’s not about the money at that point.”

How good is LeBron James Jr.? That question remains up for debate before he’s set to start a critical final season playing on Nike’s EYBL circuit. While the long-term vision for his game has crystalized since he first came under the microscope, he remains a polarizing prospect whose game is often misconstrued by fans who make big assumptions based on his last name.

Bronny James height, age, and scouting essentials

Here’s what we know about Bronny right now:

There are 23 players in the class rated as 5-star prospects right now, making James one of the highest ranked four-star recruits. He has firmly established himself as a high-major college prospect, but the reality is that he’s far from a typical recruit as the son of one of the greatest basketball players ever.

James has played on stacked teams at Sierra Canyon filled with current and future NBA players. He shared the floor with Zairie Williams and B.J. Boston early in high school career before both were selected in the 2021 NBA Draft. This year he was teammates with Amari Bailey, the UCLA-bound guard rated as the No. 2 player in the senior class. Sierra Canyon had two other top-100 seniors on the roster in USC-bound big man Kijani Wright and Nebraska signee Ramel Lloyd Jr.

James took the floor for Sierra Canyon this season less than a year since he tore his meniscus in Feb. 2021. With so much talent around him, Bronny has essentially been asked to be a role player. Add in the pandemic drastically altering the high school schedule in California, and there simply isn’t much tape on Bronny yet.

“To me he’s always been roughly one of the 20 best kids in the class,” said PD Web, director of research & development at Cerebro Sports. “It’s just not the way we think of stars, and especially NBA babies.”

While Bronny is certainly an intriguing talent, he hasn’t always had the production to match it. His best games — like a 18-point performance against suburban Chicago titan Glenbard West — are often followed quieter performances. As Sierra Canyon was upset by Harvard-Westlake during the CIF Southern Section Open semifinal game, James only finished with four points. His junior season ended with a blowout loss to an elite Centennial High School team in a game where James was held scoreless while slowed by a hip injury.

What’s Bronny’s game really like? Here are our impressions after watching him as a junior at Sierra Canyon.

Bronny James scouting report

LeBron James started the second act of his career by surrounding himself with talented teammates, and his son is doing the same thing. As it’s happened, the younger James has essentially been slotted into low usage roles where he’s been counted on to do the little things that help his teams win rather than single-handedly carry them to victory.

Right now, James is at his best defending opposing point guards while playing in an off-ball role offensively. He’s shown promising flashes as a shooter, making shots from NBA range off spot-ups and even displaying the ability to hit three-pointers off movement.

While he’s the size of a point guard, he doesn’t play the position in a traditional sense. Instead of initiating offense with the ball in his hands, Bronny excels at spacing the floor, making quick decisions as a passer, and helping his team get out in transition by turning defense into offense.

“He is a point of attack defender who can scale on- and off-ball,” Web said. “He is a smart passer but doesn’t need to have the ball in his hands to make it happen. He has shooting versatility and he’s also a defensive playmaker who can get out in transition. It’s the perfect scalable small wing or guard.

“I think Bronny will end up being taller than whatever he’s listed at now. But that’s essentially describing a player closer to Danny Green than LeBron James. I think that’s where a lot of the misunderstanding of his game comes from.”

Bronny James has a promising shooting projection

While his dad has played with the ball in his hands his entire life, Bronny is most comfortable spotting up from three right now. His outside jumper initially looked shaky on the EYBL as he returned from the meniscus tear, but he proved he’s a dependable shooter as a junior at Sierra Canyon.

Bronny will bring legitimate valuable as a floor spacer. He’s a confident shooter with deep range who doesn’t hesitate to fire in the face of a closeout. Here’s a spot-up shooting compilation from his junior year.

One of the first things you’ll notice about the shot is his release is pretty slow. He’ll have to work on speeding it up in the coming years, but he shoots a soft ball with nice touch. His ability to spread the floor and fire threes at volume will be a big part of his game.

Bronny isn’t just a stationary shooter, either. He’s shown the ability to come off pindowns, get his feet set, and hit shots. Here are a couple examples of Bronny’s movement shooting ability.

Sierra Canyon will occasionally run actions to get Bronny darting around screens to get open from three. From there, he’s at his best as a threat to shoot or move the ball quickly with a pass.

There are signs of a developing pull-up game, too. No, Bronny isn’t going to launch threes off the dribble the moment the opposing defense goes under a screen just yet. But he’s shown a comfort level getting into his one dribble pull-up when the defense tries to run him off the line.

This is a nice foundation for a 17-year-old, and certainly something he can build off from here. Bronny’s floor spacing ability is going to be a critical part of his game moving forward, and he showed enough as a junior at Sierra Canyon to believe it will be a dependable asset for him.

Bronny James is a smart passer who can act as the connective tissue of an offense

The value of Bronny’s floor spacing is boosted by his ability to quickly recognize when he needs to move the ball. If a teammate creates the initial advantage and the ball swings to Bronny, he can be counted on to either fire a three or swing the rock to a teammate in a more advantageous position.

Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams has helped popularize the idea of ‘0.5 basketball’ — essentially that players have half a second to either shoot, pass, or dribble once they touch the ball. While Bronny isn’t fully formed in this regard just yet, it’s clear he is a good processor who wants to make the right play. Here’s a compilation of Bronny as a passer.

Players who can find the open man without creating the advantage off the dribble have been labeled as ‘connectors’ in this era of NBA basketball, with Tyrese Haliburton and Lonzo Ball standing out as two examples. Bronny could certainly fit that archetype one day even without their size. Players like De’Anthony Melton and Miles ‘Deuce’ McBride offer a similar skill set as shorter guards.

Bronny James’ defense should be his calling card

It’s strange to think that the son of one of the biggest stars in history does his best work on the defensive end, but that’s the type of player Bronny is right now. While he may not be super tall or long yet, he has quick feet and a strong body that should make him a quality defensive guard throughout his career.

Watch Bronny slide his feet, change directions, and avoid fouling in this clip.

A few things stand out about Bronny’s defense. He has good lateral quickness with an impressive ability to keep his balance while changing directions. He takes pride in locking down his man, and he’s attentive off the ball. He had several instances of giving up his body for a charge this season.

Bronny has also had some pretty shot blocking flashes. Here’s one:

James’ tough defense often leads to big plays going the other way. Here are two clips that show his ability to turn defense into offense.

In the first clip, Bronny slides his feet to force his man into a touch midrange floater, pushes the ball down floor after receiving the pass, and attacks the basket for a layup. In the second clip, James traps the ball handler on the opposite baseline after a full court press, cuts off another driving lane after a pass, then runs down court to finish the defensive possession with a block. Sierra Canyon recovers the ball, kicks it to Bronny to lead the break, and it pushes it down the floor before finding an open shooter for three.

James’ lack of size will limit him some, but his strong chest, quick feet, and impressive hand-eye coordination will help him handle a variety of assignments defensively.

Improving as a driver is the next step for Bronny

One area where James Jr. can improve is by becoming a more flexible and explosive driver. It’s important to remember that he’s still recovering from a meniscus tear at such a young age, and that his role on Sierra Canyon has often been more about spacing the floor, moving the ball, and playing defense around Bailey as the offense’s first option. But finding an avenue to toward rim pressure would go a long way to improving his stock as a prospect given his size.

There are encouraging flashes. Here’s a good drive by Bronny to his left even though he couldn’t get the finish to go down:

Here’s an example of a drive James actually converted. He splits the pick-and-roll, explodes to the basket, and shows nice body control on the finish:

Bronny James has all the makings of a dependable NBA role player if he can keep improving

James’ junior season at Sierra Canyon feels like a success when you factor in all the missed time coming off a meniscus tear and Covid restrictions. He’s someone who plays a winning brand of basketball and has the ability to complement the more ball dominant stars around him.

To this point, James Jr. has never been asked to be the primary offensive option on his high school teams. It would be nice to see him assume that role in his final EYBL tour this spring and summer even if has some growing pains.

“One of the issues with him is he kind of blends in,” Web said. “I don’t know what his limitations really are because he’s always been on these really stacked teams. He’s always played in environments where he’s not asked to do things he’s uncomfortable with. The experience can be positive even if the results are medium.”

As James continues to flesh out his offensive creation ability, he has a high floor as a player who spaces the floor, hits shots, and makes an impact on the defensive end. That’s a highly useful player in today’s game next to the growing trend of oversized ball handlers.

“We’re talking about an archetype that fits next to heliocentric or heavy decision making wings pretty seamlessly,” Web said. “When we think of the Luka Doncic or Cade Cunninghams of the world, you don’t necessarily think you have to put a point guard next to them. You just load up on decision makers who can make shots and are versatile defenders who can give you as many looks as possible while having your world centered around a big do-it-all wing. Players like Bronny fit perfectly in a world where there are more and more wings making more and more playmaking decisions. Because they will always need athletic, energetic defenders who can take multiple assignments.”

There’s a certain veteran who will be at the end of his career when Bronny is set to enter the league who fits that description, too.

“Bronny is in a lot of ways the perfect player to play next to LeBron,” Web said. “That’s the extra player that LeBron needed in Miami to go against the Spurs. He sort of seems crafted in a lab to be the perfect teammate for LeBron James.”

As Bronny enters his final season of grassroots ball and then his senior year at Sierra Canyon, he’s likely to step into a role he hasn’t known yet: leading man for his teams. It’s an opportunity to explore the boundaries of his game and test himself against the best of his peers. The next 12 months will be the most important of his prep career.

It’s easy to mislabel the talents of a player whose government name is LeBron James Jr. He doesn’t play anything like this dad just yet, but he is still showing some foundational skills that can ultimately lead to a successful NBA career.