As Mikal Bridges cements his status as a consensus lottery pick and Donte DiVincenzo’s name becomes hot enough to reportedly receive an invite to the green room of the draft, their Villanova teammate who was the consensus national player of the year has seen his stock remain static.
Jalen Brunson was the leading scorer on Villanova’s national title team last season, pouring in 18.9 points per game while dishing out 4.6 assists. Bunson, a three-year starter and two-time national champ, was also highly-efficient, shooting 52.1 percent from the floor, 40.8 percent from deep and 80.2 percent from the free throw line. And as a result of his remarkable junior season, the Villanova point guard took home a ton of hardware in sweeping the major national player of the year awards.
But, Brunson isn’t considered a surefire first-round pick.
Two of the main reasons for this? His position and age. The point guard position has the greatest depth in the NBA so lead guards don’t tend be high draft picks unless they have All-Star upside. If Bridges was five inches shorter, he wouldn’t have the same kind of value. Teams are starving for rotation three-and-D wings and not so much for high-floor/low-ceiling point guards.
With Brunson set to turn 22 years old in August, he doesn’t possess the tantalizing upside of the top point guards in this draft like Trae Young, Collin Sexton and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Even so, there's still a place for Brunson in the NBA.
As a three-level scorer, Brunson can fill it up in a variety of ways. He has a smooth jumper that extends beyond the three-point line. In the mid-range area, he makes up for his lack of quickness with crafty moves to create separation for pull-ups. On drives, Brunson can initiate contact to draw fouls, contort his body to avoid contests and has good touch around the rim. And believe it or not, the 6-2 guard utilizes his craftiness to be an effective post player as well.
When Brunson has the ball in his hands, he carries a calming force with him. He plays at his own pace and just always seems in control, rarely committing egregious turnovers or taking bad shots. He's also a willing, talented passer who will make the unselfish extra pass and can also fit the ball into a tight window to a cutter/roller.
Brunson’s weaknesses have less to do with his skills and more with his physical traits and tools. He’s not an explosive athlete with crazy bounce and doesn’t possess game-changing speed or quickness. So will he be able to create enough space against more athletic wing defenders to penetrate to the rim or get off his pull-up jumper?
Defensively, Brunson works hard and isn't way undersized as a point guard. But he doesn't have the size to switch across multiple positions and the one position he will defend is deep with high-level talent. He can survive against backups, but how will he fare against quality starters and stars?
Lefties tend to get compared to other lefties, but I'm passing on the Derek Fisher comp and going with fellow Big 5 alum Jameer Nelson. The St. Joe’s product is shorter and had a little more quickness during his prime, but was a solid starter capable of scoring at all three levels despite some physical limitations. Brunson projects more as a backup but has the ceiling of a player like Nelson.
How’d he fit with the Sixers
Let’s look at the Sixers’ current guards beyond Ben Simmons. Markelle Fultz is an unknown. T.J. McConnell is set to be an unrestricted free agent next summer. And the only others under contract are Jerryd Bayless, Timothe Luwawu-Caborrot and Furkan Korkmaz.
This team needs guard depth, specifically ball handlers and shot creators/makers. While it may not come at an elite level, Brunson could fill both of those needs. And because of his shooting ability, he could also play off the ball as a spot-up shooter and secondary creator alongside Simmons and Fultz.
A fringe first-rounder, Brunson's range will start right around the Sixers’ second pick at No. 26. If they pass on him there, they shouldn’t count on him still being on the board at their next pick at 38.