What to make of Bronny James' lackluster season and future NBA prospects

LAS VEGAS — No one has gone through more adversity this college basketball season than USC freshman Bronny James. The 6-foot-2 guard committed to USC last spring, and the Trojans had the No. 3-ranked recruiting class that included James and No. 1 high school prospect Isaiah Collier.

In August, James suffered a cardiac arrest at practice and underwent surgery. He returned to the court on Dec. 10 in a home game against Long Beach State and logged 17 minutes, finishing with four points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals in the overtime loss. His comeback in four short months is crazy to think about after everything he went through and a testament to the work he put in to return to the team this season.

“Anytime a young man misses four months, including the first part of the season, it’s hard to just start playing in December,” USC head coach Andy Enfield told Yahoo Sports. “You’re behind on a variety of things, including conditioning, timing on offense and defense, the system you’re trying to learn. It’s really hard as a freshman, but I give him a ton of credit. He showed up every day focused, he works extremely hard and is a great teammate.”

Collier, a potential lottery pick in this year's draft, certainly agrees with that sentiment.

“Bronny’s grown a lot this year,” Collier told Yahoo Sports. “College ball is definitely hard for everyone coming in as a freshman and especially what he went through. People don’t know how hard he works. He’s unselfish and he’s a smart player.”

USC’s rise and fall this season happened quickly. James was out to start the season, Collier broke his wrist and missed a month, and Josh Morgan missed a handful of games due to illness. After being ranked inside the AP Top 25 to start the season, the Trojans dropped six straight games in January and lost almost all hopes of making the NCAA tournament.

No. 6 Arizona ended USC’s season Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament. The Wildcats won in a commanding fashion, 70-49. It wasn’t the best shooting night for USC and that included James. He finished with three points (1-for-5 from 3-point range) and one rebound in 22 minutes.

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 13: USC Trojans guard Bronny James (6) looks on during the first round game of the men's Pac-12 Tournament  between the USC Trojans and the Washington Huskies on March 13, 2024, at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, NV. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
USC Trojans guard Bronny James (6) looks on during the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament between the USC Trojans and the Washington Huskies on March 13, 2024, at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) (Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

With his dad, LeBron, saying multiple times he wants to end his NBA career playing alongside his son, many wonder if this was Bronny’s last game in a USC jersey.

It’s clear he needs more development before he contributes to any NBA roster, but there have been many players drafted in the past with similar stat lines to Bronny who have developed in the G League, getting reps and adjusting to the pace and physicality of the NBA game.

Just last year, Chris Livingston was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks with the No. 58 pick. In his one year at Kentucky, Livingston averaged 6.3 points and 4.2 rebounds. Also in 2023, the Minnesota Timberwolves drafted UCLA's Jaylen Clark at No. 53. Clark tore his Achilles late last season, and the Timberwolves still drafted him on potential, knowing they would have to wait an entire season before he hits the court. In 2022, the Denver Nuggets drafted Peyton Watson with the 30th overall pick after he averaged 3.3 points and 2.9 rebounds in one season at UCLA.

Bronny’s freshman year at USC was very underwhelming from a scouting standpoint. He ended the season averaging 4.9 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists while shooting 27.3% from behind the arc. There’s hesitation in his 3-ball and he didn’t assert himself on offense enough this season, playing alongside two ball-dominant guards in Collier and Boogie Ellis. Where he’s most impactful is on the defensive end. Bronny can defend both positions in the backcourt, keeping players in front, and is an excellent rebounder for his size. He’s gotten stronger since last year and does a good job at establishing position when the shot goes up.

“He’s a very smart player and has a solid feel for the game,” one NBA scout told Yahoo Sports. “He needs more time to develop, but the fundamental mechanics are there.”

Bronny will most likely test the NBA waters and receive feedback from teams. Klutch Sports CEO Rich Paul will probably be strategic in what teams he meets with and what workouts he schedules. Players have until June 16 to withdraw from the NBA Draft.

“I think he’ll probably stay in this draft,” one NBA executive told Yahoo Sports. “Should he go back for another year? Probably, but teams will take a serious look at him this year if he decides to stay in this draft class.”

Bronny is far from a finished product and has always been a player who doesn’t rush the development process. He was patient with his growth at Sierra Canyon High School (Chatsworth, California) and was named a McDonald’s All-American, one of the highest honors for high school basketball players, his senior year. It's an honor he proved he earned outside of being LeBron’s son. During the all-star game, Bronny hit five 3-pointers and added four assists with his family sitting courtside.

The deciding factor for Bronny will be based on whether he wants to continue to develop against his peers at the college level, or get reps in the G League playing with NBA rules and spacing.

In a now-deleted tweet from Feb. 26, LeBron weighed in on the speculation and criticism surrounding his son, saying, "Can y'all please just let the kid be a kid and enjoy college basketball," LeBron wrote. "The work and results will ultimately do the talking no matter what he decides to do."

The 2024 NBA Draft is considered to be a very weak draft class. There is no consensus No. 1 pick and there will be plenty of movement on NBA team draft boards between now and June 26. It’s also worth noting that the Los Angeles Lakers have the 56th pick in the draft, and if Bronny were to stay in this year’s draft, the Lakers would be heavy favorites to land him.

Bronny and his family have plenty of time to decide which direction he’ll take in further developing as a player — one more year at USC, or jump to the pros where he and LeBron could make history as the first father-son duo to share an NBA court.