It’s nearly impossible to have a more accomplished college career than one Villanova point guard Jalen Brunson.
Two-time national champion, Big East Player of the Year, Wooden Award winner, AP Player of the Year, consensus 1st team All-American, and Naismith winner. There isn’t much left for him to add on to that in the college game, so he’s making the move to the NBA.
Brunson was a driving force in Villanova’s success the last three years. His role on the team grew in each of his three years on campus and it culminated in one last ‘ship before he declared for the draft. His usage rate slowly increased each year in Villanova and he started 115 out of a possible 116 games. He is a gamer, that much is true.
So why isn’t Brunson considered an elite prospect? Mock drafts have him pegged to be selected either late in the first round or in the second round, and its seemingly contradictory to his decorated college career. However, the determining of prospects as NBA players needs more of an indicator than college success. It’s about finding the skills that a player displays in college and attempting to discern which skills and traits can translate against harder competition.
Here, we can examine those skills and traits, and find out what’s going to be a benefit in the next level and what might hold him back.
-High basketball IQ
-Excellent finisher at the rim
-Smart passer, play-maker, ball-handling
The first thing you notice is when you watch Jalen Brunson is that the guy just knows what to do on a basketball court. This is really apparent in transition when players don’t have the benefit of running plays or offensive sets.
Check out his game against Temple from last December. This is arguably his best game of the year despite notching exactly 31 points four times, including this game. But what made this game so special was that Brunson was taking smart shots and ducking defenders immediately after the break.
Roughly 32 seconds into the video, Temple misses a shot and Brunson immediately leaks out in transition. After he gets the ball, he drives and splits two defenders, keeping the ball away from both defenders with some creativity for the finish.
His high basketball IQ also comes out in how he reads the defense on pick-and-rolls. Fast forward to 1:30 in the video and see Jalen Brunson take a high screen above the three-point line. He sees the screener’s defender stay back to protect against the drive. Brunson reads it immediately and pulls up for a three and drains it. Smart play, and even better execution.
Another quality trait of the Villanova point guard is his playmaking. A lot of his production in that area comes from avoiding turnovers and making smart passes. He only averaged 1.8, 2.1, and 1.8 turnovers a game in his entire career. His minutes increased each year as well and he STILL kept his turnovers relatively low. His assists also jumped up from 2.5, to 4.1, to 4.6 per game.
Jalen was thrust into and accepted a bigger role in running an offense and flourished. People may be turned off by the fact that he’s an “older” prospect at 21, but he improved each and every year as one should in college. Every test possible was put in front of him and he passed with flying colors.
-Age (21) lowers his draft value
-Master of None
Something you notice when you watch Jalen Brunson is that he doesn’t rely on athleticism at all for his game. It’s a brain over brawn type of deal. He tested fairly averagely at the NBA combine and wasn’t blowing anyone away this season with his athletic ability. There are plenty of NBA players who aren’t Russell Westbrook-type athletes, but a weakness is a weakness.
It may be concerning in terms of keeping quicker, more agile guards in front of him on drives. He uses proper(ish) defensive technique to compensate, but he’s going to need to prove that he can in the next level. The same goes for the other side of the ball as well. His ball-handling is fine, but it simply isn’t good enough to get past
You also get the feeling that Jalen Brunson fits the type of a jack of all trades, master of none. I truly had to nitpick to find what few weaknesses that I did. Brunson is a solid player and he plays like a guy who is going to be around the league for 8-12 years. But nothing he does is spectacular or separates himself from the pack. He is unique in his stability and his awareness on the court, but there isn’t a particular part of his game that leaves me absolutely convinced he can play in the NBA and not be just another guy.
Fit for Grizzlies
Brunson appears to be quite a solid fit for the Grizzlies, especially as a backup behind Mike Conley. As a high-IQ, experienced player he most likely COULD start on an NBA team next year. But he could really thrive under an already established point guard and showcase his skills and smarts off the bench a la Fred VanVleet.
I’ve expressed some concerns about his overwhelming okayness. But there isn’t anything inherently wrong with that. If Brunson were considered a lottery prospect, that’d be different. He isn’t though, and he’ll likely be a target of the Grizzlies with their #32 pick. At that point, teams are looking for anyone that can contribute or be a part of an NBA roster, not potential All-Stars and franchise savers. Memphis doesn’t need to hit a home run with this pick, a single or a double will do fine.
Jalen Brunson is a fine prospect and is a true gamer. I enjoy watching his game so I hope he gets into the league and stays there for a long time. But it remains to be seen if he’ll be a solid NBA player or just another guy who was really good in college.