'Growing comfortable': Bronny James is hit and miss in Lakers debut

Los Angeles Lakers guard Bronny James (9) waits during a break during the first half of an NBA summer league basketball game against the Sacramento Kings in San Francisco , Saturday, July 6, 2024. (AP Photo/Nic Coury)

On and off the court, Bronny James is encountering a new experience — playing at the NBA level while also being the center of attention.

In his first postgame news conference with the Lakers, the typically low-key James displayed the demeanor many would expect of a 19-year-old still adapting to the spotlight.

With mic in hand, James acknowledged that nervousness was present before tipoff of his debut Saturday.

"Every first game I have at the next level, there's always butterflies in my stomach," James said after the Lakers lost 108-94 to the Sacramento Kings. "But as soon as the ball tips off and we go a couple of times down the court, it all goes away and I play basketball."

James was pleasantly surprised by the love shown for him at Chase Center, especially from the fan base that showered heartfelt cheers every time he touched the court.

“The atmosphere was more than I expected,” James said. “It’s a big game for me and I didn't know people from Golden State would come and rep for me. That was pretty nice to see.”

Lakers guard Bronny James, center, drives against Kings guard Jordan Ford, left, as Lakers teammate Dalton Knecht watches.

Early in the game, every time he released a shot, the crowd swooned with anticipation of James making his first basket and let out audible gasps whenever he missed.

The crowd exploded when he finally scored on a driving, acrobatic layup in the second quarter.

Before the NBA draft, the scouting report highlighted James’ great energy, defense and instincts for the game — attributes he had sparsely showcased at USC.

For the most part, James contributed Saturday with his energy and defensive skills, finishing with one steal. At times, he was caught flat-footed and off balance, still trying to find his footing at the NBA level.

However, James said he felt more comfortable at this level than in college, where he found the game much faster.

“I feel like I really slowed down, especially on the offensive end,” James said. “[After] the week of practice that we had, I felt it really prepared me for what was to come. I felt comfortable.”

Read more: LeBron James says Bronny's summer league stats don't matter

For James, the plan outlined in the lead-up to his debut was for him to become more aggressive, a strategy he intends to continue this summer.

“Overall [I need to] just be aggressive, believe in myself and know that I can make plays for myself and my teammates,” James said. “Playing my game on the defensive end, especially because I believe I know how to play.”

James spent much of the game hovering beyond the three-point line, waiting for catch-and-shoot opportunities. After scoring his first basket, he became more comfortable taking shots and driving to the basket.

Unfortunately, many of them did not fall as he finished two-of-nine shooting from the field while missing three three-point attempts and both free throws. He did make an impressive behind-the-back dribble followed by a midrange jump shot.

James pointed to a steal that led to an assist and when he finally scored his first bucket in the second quarter, which were moments that helped him find a rhythm and slow the game down. However, he acknowledged that his performance didn't meet the expectations he set for himself.

James' goal now is to watch the film and identify the mistakes he can improve upon and what he did well.

“Game by game, growing comfortable in playing my game is a big part of coming out here and getting those reps,” James said.

Dane Johnson, who is coaching the summer league team, praised James for his attitude and effort in practices and the game. James demonstrated flashes of good defensive instincts, but consistency will be crucial moving forward, Johnson said.

Only playing 22 minutes, James will continue to play at this pace for the rest of the summer, Johnson said

“We’re trying to integrate him and get him as many reps as we can,” Johnson said. “He needs more experience, especially playing the NBA game.”

Before the game, James sat calmly and focused with his headphones on, working on his midrange and three-point shots. During the layup lines, he showcased his jumping ability by slamming down two-handed dunks reminiscent of his father.

Lakers guard Bronny James, right, shoots a three-pointer over Kings guard Dane Goodwin.
Lakers guard Bronny James shoots a three-pointer over Kings guard Dane Goodwin during the second half of their California Classic game on Saturday. (Nic Coury / Associated Press)

James’ on-court mannerisms are eerily similar to his father’s, from the dunks and drives to the passing and even staring at the ball before hitting a step-back three-pointer.

LeBron James, unable to attend because of his commitment to attend Team USA‘s training camp in Las Vegas ahead of the Olympics, watched a video of his son making his first basket.

“Come on, man, that’s tough,” James said with a smile.

Dalton Knecht, the Lakers’ first-round pick, finished with 12 points, four assists and two rebounds in 26 minutes.

The Lakers are scheduled to play Sunday against the Golden State Warriors and Wednesday against the Miami Heat before summer league play shifts to Las Vegas.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.