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NBA draft profile: Villanova G Jalen Brunson

NBA draft profile: Villanova G Jalen Brunson

Jalen Brunson

Position: Guard

Height: 6-2

Weight: 198

School: Villanova

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.

Strengths
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.

Weaknesses
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?

NBA comparison
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.

Draft projection 
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.

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All of Brett Brown's decisions under more intense scrutiny than ever

All of Brett Brown's decisions under more intense scrutiny than ever

Now that the Sixers have completed much of the process, the pressure rests on Brett Brown to deliver the team to the promised land.

The arrival of Jimmy Butler has brought a renewed vigor to the Sixers' season and represents an important step in The Process. The roster is much better than it has ever been under Brown’s leadership, and a fan base excited for the young Sixers to compete for a championship is ready to see dividends from their investment.

For Brown, signed through the 2022 season, the pressure may never be greater for him to win and win now.

Brown’s time managing a subpar roster made him one of the master tinkerers in the NBA, oftentimes piecing together rotations with players never intended to win games. Now comes another test of his coaching acumen, making these pieces fit.

The concerns regarding the rotation came up in Jimmy Buckets’ debut last night. Despite a strong start from Embiid (4 for 5 shooting, 11 points, three threes), Brown kept to his regular rotation, taking him out of the game halfway through the first quarter, seemingly stalling his momentum. And a hot shooting Wilson Chandler didn’t see the floor during critical moments of the fourth quarter. Those rotational issues will only get more complex, as it seems general manager Elton Brand isn’t finished making moves just yet.

For young teams in the NBA looking to make the leap from exciting lineups to competing rosters, it’s not unusual for front offices to bring in a different coach to continue the team’s growth. The Golden State Warriors replaced head coach Mark Jackson with Steve Kerr after three seasons in Oakland, even after Jackson took them from 23 wins to 51. Kerr was a major key, however, as the Warriors went on to win three of the next four NBA titles.

We're seeing this season the value new head coach Mike Budenholzer has added to the Bucks. The Raptors seem to be taking a forward step with Nick Nurse replacing Dwane Casey.

If Brown is unable to deliver significant progress this year for the Sixers, the new-look Sixers front office could look at some point to upgrade the position with a more win-now head coach.

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Robert Covington immediately impresses Tom Thibodeau, T-Wolves fans

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Robert Covington immediately impresses Tom Thibodeau, T-Wolves fans

It took Robert Covington all of one night to endear himself to his new franchise and fan base.

Covington started at small forward and played a team-high 41 minutes for the Timberwolves Wednesday night in a 107-100 win over the Pelicans. He had a typical RoCo stat line, stuffing the box score with 13 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and a block.

T-Wolves head coach Tom Thibodeau is known for playing his core guys huge minutes. It's regarded as one of the reasons Jimmy Butler has had trouble staying healthy for a full season — the dude averaged between 36 and 39 minutes for six straight seasons.

Covington got his first taste of that Wednesday night.

“I didn’t know," Thibodeau told reporters of the 41 minutes. "I knew we could use (Covington) right away because he brings so much defensively. And he goes so hard … if you go hard enough it’s going to make up for a lot of things, including being new to a team.’’

The 100 points scored on the T-Wolves were the fewest in 11 games and the second-lowest total all season. Some of that was because Andrew Wiggins actually used his athleticism and Karl-Anthony Towns actually played effective defense despite being plagued by foul trouble all game.

But a lot of it was the presence of Covington, who was all over the place, showing that his skill set can translate even before he knows the playbook. The Pels' leading scorer Wednesday was E'Twaun Moore, who was 3 for 10 for six points when guarded by Covington and 10 for 13 for 24 points when guarded by anyone else.

Dario Saric did not start. Thibodeau stuck with his favorite vet, Taj Gibson, who is still a solid four this deep into his career. Gibson played 28 minutes to Saric's 20. Expect that to move closer to an even split as Saric gets more acclimated. Saric is not as much a plug-and-play guy as Covington because his offense does require having the ball more. 

Saric finished with 9 points, 3 rebounds, an assists and 2 steals on 3-for-7 shooting.

Thibodeau was excited by the versatility of his two newest pieces, particularly because it can lead to more effective switching on defense.

"I thought Cov had a great game going," he said. "You get a feeling when you're coaching against players — I remember last year playing against (the Sixers) and those guys, I like their mental toughness. What they were a part of in Philadelphia, they went through some really dark days and they just kept going and going and going. 

"Even last year, they were 25-25 and they just clicked and took off. ... I love what Covington has done, to go undrafted and be first-team All Defense. That says a lot."

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