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Bronny James Can’t Be Much Worse Than The Rest Of These Guys

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MARCH 14: Bronny James #6 of the USC Trojans looks on in the second half of a quarterfinal game against the Arizona Wildcats during the Pac-12 Conference basketball tournament at T-Mobile Arena on March 14, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Wildcats defeated the Trojans 70-49. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)
David Becker/Getty Images

While teams like the Nuggets and Mavericks were doing high-level shit and winning extremely cool playoff games this past weekend, representatives from the NBA's more clownish franchises gathered in Chicago to jostle for the chance to move up in the worst draft lottery in recent memory. After the fanfare and anxiety of the Victor Wembanyama lottery one year ago, this year's edition was going to be a letdown no matter what. All of the prospects in this year's class are flawed, and nobody seems to be in agreement on the order in which any of them will be selected. It is fitting then that one of the most intriguing post-lottery questions concerns the fate of Bronny James, who is probably not going to be selected in the lottery.

James declared for the draft shortly after he finished his freshman season at USC, which was somewhat of a surprise given how horrible of a time he's had for the past year. He seemed like a no-brainer one-and-done guy until he suffered cardiac arrest on the court last July, and though it is relieving and impressive that he made a full recovery and returned to the court after just four months, the bar for being picked in the NBA draft is significantly higher than having a functioning heart and being generally healthy enough to play college basketball. When he was on the court, James had his moments; he also averaged 4.8 points on 36 percent shooting, 2.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and one stock in 19.4 minutes per game for a 15-18 USC team that finished ninth in the Pac-12.

James has until May 29 to decide whether to stay in the draft or go back to college (if he does, he will transfer), a path that he seems unlikely to take after the NBA's Fitness to Play Panel cleared him to play and participate in this week's pre-draft combine. After being listed at 6-foot-4 in high school and college, James was measured on Monday, coming in at 6-foot-1.5 with a plus-5.75 wingspan. The case for James hinges on the defensive skills he's shown in high school and college, his intelligence and court vision, and the probably correct notion that he was never in a position at USC to really get comfortable and show off his skills.

There's definitely something to that last bit; not only did he have to play alongside several other ball-dominant guards on a bad team, he didn't get much of an offseason to get in shape and play a ton of competitive basketball before being thrown into the college game. A truly great player wouldn't need that sort of adjustment period, though there was never going to be a great version of James, merely a guy who could contribute at an NBA level. Determining how much to weigh the context of a non-star player's achievements is a tricky thing for any scout to suss out, especially when a player's top-level skills are less direct than "scoring a ton."

Speaking of context, perhaps the most determinative factor in whether Bronny James gets drafted is that his dad is LeBron James. The reporting today is that Bronny will stay in the draft, and while LeBron has walked back the idea that he's determined to play alongside Bronny, he has a player option for the 2024-25 season, which gives him leverage over the Lakers. In-house propagandist Brian Windhorst noted that LeBron is probably going to go back to the Lakers, and that L.A., who has the 55th pick, would be down to pick Bronny if they have the opportunity.

That makes it seem like he will probably get drafted, though there is something even simpler and maybe more important going for Bronny. This draft is boiled ass! The Hawks made an unlikely leap to the top spot, and while their prize will likely be Alex Sarr, even he is not considered to be a real blue-chip prospect. Every scout's take on this draft has been that it's bereft of top-end talent, and in every respectable mock draft there does not appear to be any consensus within the lottery. Bronny can only improve his stock through the pre-draft process, and as teams familiarize themselves with the class, he can only improve his chances. It's not a guarantee he'd be better in college next year, though it is guaranteed that he'd be in a more competitive draft class next year. At this point, it seems like he will be in the NBA in some form next year, on a two-way or at the end of the bench. He seems a long way off from helping a team win, but then again, so are a ton of guys who will hear their names called in a month.

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