Sunday, October 2

Bronny James recruiting: Best fits for LeBron James’ son include college, G League or playing overseas

Carrying the last name of perhaps the greatest NBA player of all time has its benefits, but also has its challenges. For high school star LeBron James Jr., better known as “Bronny,” that includes the lofty expectations surrounding his development as a prospect. It all adds up to intrigue if — as LeBron James himself has said he hopes will come to fruition — the two someday can play together in the NBA.

For years that has been the subject of fun fodder — seriously, can you imagine how wild it’d be to see a (probably by then) completely bald LeBron running the court with his oldest son?! — but that’s no longer the longshot possibility it once seemed. Bronny is now a 17-year-old, Class of 2023 prospect regarded as a consensus top-50 national prospect in his class. 

And yet it’s unclear, even given his strong credentials and bloodline, just how realistic it is to expect Bronny in an NBA uniform someday. Even more unclear is the path he’ll endeavor to try and get there. As LeBron pointed out, it is quite early in the process.

So I asked the experts to help lay out that path with me. What is the state of Bronny’s game? Where do we project him right now after a strong showing this summer on the Nike EYBL circuit with Strive for Greatness? Will he go to college, and if not, what are his other options? I tapped gurus Adam Finkelstein, 247Sports’ director of scouting, and Eric Bossi, 247Sports’ national basketball director, for their insights on Bronny James.

Bronny’s rankings journey

Two years ago next month, Bronny debuted in the 247Sports Composite rankings as a top-20 prospect, setting expectations that he was on a potential collision course to stardom. He was bigger and more skilled than most of his peers as a 15-year-old, and that, combined with his pedigree and the pandemic, helped fuel his early steam.

“When Bronny was first ranked in September 2020, we were in the middle of a pandemic and there was probably never another time where players had been seen less for that first ranking,” Bossi said. “Now, we’ve seen the Class of 2023 much more and the pool of players from which we are ranking has grown considerably. I think he’s kind of on the same path he’s been on for a while. He goes for stretches and games where he just kind of blends in and then has some really promising performances, and personally I feel being ranked somewhere in the top 50ish range is appropriate for him at this point.”

James is now ranked 49 by 247Sports and No. 43 in the 247Sports Composite. He hasn’t fallen off as a recruit necessarily — to consistently be ranked as a top-50 player nationally is quite a feat, as both Bossi and Finkelstein agreed — but he has lost at least some hype overall, falling from a five-star to a four-star recruit. 

“To spend your entire high school years within that top 50 range is actually pretty impressive consistency,” Finkelstein said. “Early on, you saw all the tools and you were betting on bloodlines a little bit. He obviously never caught that late growth spurt and his game was more about impacting winning in more subtle ways than going out and being the offensive focal point. You could still see obvious tools that would translate, but he wasn’t as dynamic as maybe a more prototypical five-star prospect typically is.”

A strong summer

It’s not quite accurate — or fair — to suggest Bronny’s journey as a recruit has been a rollercoaster. It’s impressive to consistently be ranked highly as a recruit for such a long period. 

“I think that there were certainly some positive flashes for Bronny and he had some of his best games during the second of July’s live periods,” Bossi said. “He was a bit more assertive as a scorer and seemed to play a little more freely. On the other hand, during the first of July’s two live weekends he didn’t play nearly as well and his team just wasn’t that great all summer. Strive for Greatness was only 2-10 during July and those losses were often blowouts. So, I think he was a bit better to end the month of July and I’m hoping that was a sign of what is to come during his senior year, but you have to take the entire spring and summer into account.”

But it’s undeniable that the natural rise and fall of any players’ prospects is, for Bronny, back on an upwards trajectory. This summer on the Nike EYBL circuit he was more aggressive as an offensive weapon. Long has he had the skill and feel of a player with borderline five-star talent, but often he has blended in as opposed to standing out in recent years. 

“What stands out now is that he’s starting to assert himself as more of a primary playmaker after historically being someone who would almost always make the right play, but not always stand out, which was obviously a little counterintuitive given all the early hype around him,” Finkelstein said. 

What makes Bronny, Bronny

What’s the draw to Bronny’s game? Beyond the early excitement about his size, which has somewhat plateaued — he’s 6-foot-3 and may be close to done growing — is his all-around skill set. Watching him in game action he’s a selfless teammate, much like his dad, who loves to get others involved and impacts the game in myriad ways.

“He’s already smart and skilled, a reliable shooter, willing ball-mover, and solid defender, so it’s really more about the nuances of the position and running a team,” Finkelstein said about his abilities and what it may take for him to take his game to the next level. “He plays with tremendous maturity, especially given the microscope he’s under, so I think he has the temperament for the position.”

The assertiveness with which he played on the circuit this offseason is reason for optimism. He has the skill to consistently be an impact player on both ends, but on offense he has played selfless to a fault. There’s a line where selfless runs over to timidness between the lines.

“The biggest step to take in the immediate future is to be more consistent and play with a little more fire,” Bossi said. “Bronny seems like a very good teammate and somebody that would be fun to play with because of that, but the time for him to be more aggressive is here. He can knock down shots in catch and shoot situations, and I’d love to see him using his strength a bit more to his advantage and for him to put more pressure on defenders as a driver, because he can open up the floor a bit for teammates when he’s playing a more active role.”

How to predict his trajectory

Historically, the hit rate — that is, the likelihood a player goes on to be a pro — on players ranked in the range Bronny is ranked within is pretty hit-or-miss. There are two, maybe three players from the 2021 class who were ranked in the 40s or 50s that could be drafted next year after their sophomore seasons — No. 51 prospect, Jeremy Sochan, was a lottery pick in June’s NBA Draft.) 

“Right now, I’m seeing Bronny as a really good high school player who has a chance to be a nice player at the high-major level,” Bossi said. 

The NBA is the goal but shouldn’t be the ultimate measuring stick for a player, though. Truth is, Bronny is a very good high school player with promising potential — even if projecting him up a level on the basketball ladder isn’t a sure thing.

“Projecting him out is so difficult, because it’s hard to envision his path being a conventional one,” Finkelstein says. “His father has already said he wants to play next to him in the NBA, and his father is probably the most influential person in all of basketball. Do I think he’s going to be NBA ready in two years? No, probably not, based on what we’re seeing now. But, I wouldn’t bet against LeBron’s ability to dictate those terms if that’s what he wants. If his name weren’t Bronny James, I would say I think he’s going to be able to impact winning from day one at the college level, but probably not be a one-and-done type candidate.”

Will Bronny go to college?

There was a time when Bronny reportedly had standing offers from both Duke and Kentucky. 

That time, though, was more than six years ago. 

A lot, including his circumstances, has changed since then. Nowadays, his recruitment — or lack thereof — is among the more mysterious topics in college hoops recruiting circles. He’s easily one of the most famous and intriguing top-50 prospects to come through the sport in the last decade, and yet, there’s surprisingly very little information available about his recruitment and even less about his opportunities.

“It’s tricky, because Bronny hasn’t been available to the media, and we’ve never been able to ask him about the status of his recruitment, and nobody around him is really saying anything,” Bossi said. “I know that from talking to coaches who have explored recruiting him, it sounds like the process for trying to build and maintain the type of relationship you would like to in a recruitment has been somewhat difficult because he’s not an easy kid to get in touch with.

“I’ve also spoken to many coaches who are at non-Nike schools who assume there’s no chance he’ll go to a non Swoosh school because of his father’s ties to Nike,” he continued. “Trust me, we’d love to cover his recruitment more in depth, and it is surprising that a few more schools haven’t put in a bit more effort, but if they aren’t saying who is involved and coaches aren’t talking behind the scenes about being involved, there isn’t a lot we can do.”

While there are no active offers listed for Bronny on his 247Sports profile, some in the industry do seem to think the college route is not only viable, but probable. ESPN’s Paul Biancardi last week reported that him going to college is more likely than him going other pro routes, like the G League Ignite. He also added that UCLA, USC, Michigan, Ohio State and Oregon are among those interested — although it has also been reported that the Wolverines and Bruins are not actively recruiting Bronny.

Behind the scenes it’s unclear what he wants to do, which has prompted some pause from programs perhaps not willing to immerse resources into pursuing a potentially dead end.

“The recruiting is a bit of a mystery,” Finkelstein said. “Almost every other player in the country is very public about their recruitment — they’re posting their offers and visits on social media — but Bronny doesn’t do that, and he also doesn’t give interviews. So everything is speculation. What I do know is that some of the schools that are publicly perceived as options for him, have told me they’ve had no direct contact.”

That leaves us, of course, with one final question. Drum roll, please.

What’s next for Bronny?

College could still be an option, and the opportunity to earn money off his name, image and likeness at the NCAA level would seemingly make that more plausible. But the mystery of his recruitment seems to leave all options on the table. That would include potentially going overseas to sharpen his skills or even enlisting with the G League Ignite. Joe Vardon of The Athletic recently wrote that “Bronny, in the fall of 2023, will either be in college, with G League Ignite or in Australia … or wherever Rich Paul places him,” recently, leading to speculation he may play in Australia’s NBL.

Both non-college options have proven viable pro paths in the past. The G League Ignite is beginning just its second year but has already produced stars, including 2021’s No. 2 overall pick, Jalen Green. The NBL in Australia has a nice track record as well of enlisting and producing top talents, which includes LaMelo Ball, RJ Hampton and Josh Giddey.

A lot will depend on the next year of development. Maybe schools become more actively involved if he hints at interest in going to college. Maybe the NBL or G League Ignite can woo him with a chance to groom and grow his game before the NBA. Maybe he grows a few more inches and adds some more assertiveness to his repertoire. 

“Who knows what the future will hold for him, but I’m certainly not watching him and thinking that he projects as a lottery pick,” Bossi said. “Heck, the Class of 2023 is not a particularly great class and there really aren’t that many guys — regardless of ranking — that we are looking at and thinking ‘Hey, that guy is gonna play in the NBA for 15 years.’ So, I’m looking at him as a kid who has a chance to be a pretty good college player, and then let’s see what happens from there.”  





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