Bronny James NBA Draft projection: Scouting report, NBA comparison and more to know about LeBron’s son

The time has come for Bronny James to make his USC debut.

James has officially been cleared to return to the court for the Trojans and could begin his college basketball career on Sunday, Dec. 10 against Long Beach State.

It has been quite the journey for LeBron’s eldest son, who suffered cardiac arrest back in July ahead of his freshman season. James has been cautious and patient in getting back on the floor, but the guard has made a recovery and is ready to join his teammates as he looks to help USC in its pursuit of a Pac-12 championship and more.

The role that James will play for USC upon his return is still to be determined as he eases his way into head coach Andy Enfield’s rotation. The Trojans are off to a slower start than expected, owning a 5-3 record after falling to No. 11 Gonzaga last weekend.

James’ presence will be a welcome sight, giving USC a reliable 3-point shooter, tough perimeter defender and high-IQ playmaker who can also take some ball-handling pressure off of the Trojans’ starting backcourt of freshman star Isaiah Collier and fifth-year senior Boogie Ellis.

MORE: Timeline of Bronny James’ recovery from cardiac arrest, return to basketball

However, don’t be surprised if James stays as USC’s sixth man.

When healthy, Enfield has started Collier, Ellis, junior forward Kobe Johnson, and fifth-year seniors DJ Rodman and Joshua Morgan. Unless there are injuries or he moves Rodman to the bench, expect the bulk of James’ minutes to come as a reserve.

Given the delayed start to his college career and the questions surrounding his role, it is unknown if the 19-year-old still intends to declare for the 2024 NBA Draft at the end of the season. How does James even project as an NBA prospect if he does declare for the draft?

The Sporting News breaks down his strengths and weaknesses below.

Bronny James scouting report

The last time we saw James on the floor was the McDonald’s All-American Game back in March. Even though it was just a showcase, it was probably closer to the role we’ll see him play at USC than the one he played for Sierra Canyon.

James flashed his much-improved perimeter shooting stroke, knocking down five of his eight 3-point attempts to come up one shy of tying the McDonald’s All-American Game record. He dished out four assists as a reactive playmaker and even flashed his perimeter defense (as much as you can in an exhibition game), checking projected first-round picks like D.J. Wagner and Stephon Castle while coming up with a pair of steals.

James was a primary ball-handler and scorer for Sierra Canyon. Playing alongside ball-dominant guards like Collier and Ellis at USC, he will likely be more of a tertiary creator and spot-up shooter on offense while taking on the toughest perimeter assignments on defense. That is similar to the role he is expected to play at the NBA level, so it should work in James’ favor to get accustomed now.

Bronny James strengths

James has solid positional size as a 6-4, 210-pound combo guard. His strengths as a prospect are that of a reliable two-way guard — an intelligent defender, connective playmaker, solid 3-point shooter and vocal leader with an incredible feel for the game.

He’s a tenacious on-ball defender with quick hands and feet, using his physicality and instincts to hound ball handlers and beat them to their spots. Off the ball, he does a great job of lurking like a safety, using his anticipation to jump passing lanes for steals and deflections or soar in from the help side for blocks.

James is an above-average rebounder for his position, crashing the defensive glass to push the pace in transition, where he is at his best. He accelerates smoothly like a Tesla, taking no time to get from zero to max speed. Even when he’s pushing the pace, his court vision seemingly slows the game down as he decides whether to attack the rim or dish to an open teammate running the lane.

He’s a capable pick-and-roll ball handler who sees the floor and makes the right read. He can pass off a live dribble with either hand or deliver lobs to rollers and cutters. He also knows when to take what the defense gives him, getting to his midrange pull-up off the bounce.

His growth as a shooter off the catch is important. He’ll have plenty of looks playing off of a playmaker like Collier and scorer like Ellis to prove to NBA scouts he can knock down the 3-ball with consistency.

MORE: Explaining the cause of Bronny James’ cardiac arrest

Bronny James weaknesses

James’ biggest weakness in high school was the inconsistency of his play. On some nights, he looked like the top prospect he was projected to be. On others, he fell into the background, looking like any other guy on the floor.

Given the role he is expected to play as USC’s third scoring guard, I have some concerns that this trend will continue.

He’s not an assertive scorer and lacks the typical shake you see from elite guard prospects, failing to create separation from his defender. He’s a reliable ball handler, but it will be important for James to get more creative as a dribbler and establish some go-to moves as a shot-creator.

His consistency as a shooter off the catch from 3-point range will be his biggest swing skill as a prospect, but he could help his draft stock even more if he can prove he can score in the midrange and at the rim more frequently.

Bronny James and LeBron James

Bronny James 2024 NBA Draft projection

With a 2024 NBA Draft class that has more questions than answers, I still believe James is a first-round talent if he has the opportunity to showcase what he’s capable of this season and decides to declare for the draft. There will be plenty of franchises in the middle to back end of the first round that would be interested in adding a 3-and-D prospect with instinctive playmaking skills like James.

In the late-teens to early-20s range, teams like the Heat, Knicks or 76ers could all benefit from his skill set. The Lakers’ 2024 first-round pick could belong to the Pelicans this year. They would otherwise be a destination for obvious reasons. Even contenders like the Bucks could use the guard depth.

I am admittedly higher on James’ potential as an NBA prospect than most. It is unknown if James is on track for a one-and-done season given the delayed start to his freshman year. If he is eased into his role and needs more time than expected to shake off the rust, he could elect to remain in college for his sophomore season.

MORE: How Bronny James landed his NCAA record NIL deals

Bronny James NBA player comparison

Plays like: Derrick White

In my last profile on James, I compared him to Magic guard Jalen Suggs. As natural point guards who have settled into secondary creator and scoring roles with a defensive-minded focus, I still like the comparison. But given James’ expected growth as a perimeter shooter — and the assumption that he’ll be more of an off-ball, off-the-catch shooter this season — White is another combo guard who fits a similar bill.

White is listed at 6-4, 190 pounds with a 6-8 wingspan. James is currently listed at 6-4, 210 pounds and while he doesn’t have an official wingspan listing, around 6-8 feels right.

Nothing about White’s physical profile jumps off the page but he’s an intense and intelligent defender, savvy playmaker and budding shooter, as is James. White’s impressive development at the NBA level would be a great blueprint for Bronny to follow.

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