What Bronny James’ NBA Draft decision means

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The Sporting Tribune's Wilko Martínez-Cachero writes about the domino effect from Bronny James decision to enter the NBA draft.

LOS ANGELES — USC guard Bronny James declared for the 2024 NBA Draft on Friday morning, while keeping his college eligibility and announcing he would also be entering the NCAA transfer portal.

“I’ve had a year with some ups and downs but all added to growth for me as a man, student and athlete,” James said on Instagram. 

“Thank you to USC for an amazing freshman year and as always thankful for my family, friends, doctors, athletic trainers and fans for their support.”

In late July, the former McDonald’s All American suffered sudden cardiac arrest because of a congenital heart defect. James was cleared for a full return four months later, and he made his USC debut on Dec. 10, 2023 in an overtime loss against Long Beach State. 

The 19-year-old playmaker played in 25 games — starting in six of them — and averaged 4.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.1 turnovers in 19.3 minutes a night. James shot 36.6% from the field and 26.7% from three. His best game was likely a mid-January loss against Oregon State, in which he scored 11 points to go with five rebounds, six assists, and one block.

James’ decision to leave USC comes at a time of upheaval for the university’s men’s basketball program. 

Andy Enfield, who had coached the Trojans since 2013, was named head coach at SMU. Eric Musselman subsequently left Arkansas to join USC.

Key wing Kobe Johnson transferred to crosstown rivals UCLA, while rising juniors Kijani Wright, Oziyah Sellers, and Vincent Iwuchukwu followed suit in entering the portal. Five-star recruit Trent Perry and four-stars Liam Campbell and Brody Kozlowski reopened their college recruitments. Isaiah Collier will almost certainly head to the NBA and be a lottery pick.

The roster should be almost completely different next season but what’s certain is that James, who committed to USC after four years at Sierra Canyon School — a high school north of Los Angeles — will not be a part of it. 

What is Bronny James’ future in the NBA?

Bronny’s priority is the NBA Draft. 

However, his freshman season in college was not as productive as hoped. Coming into the year, an NBA front office executive commented to The Sporting Tribune that he was not the only one who liked James’ game. Instead, other concerns among scouts about the USC guard’s ballhandling and aggression came to the forefront.

James’ averages were lowly across the board — less than 5 points per game on poor scoring efficiency — but that should not close off an immediate NBA future. 

The example of Peyton Watson, a fellow former California five-star who averaged 3.3 points on 35.6% from the field and 22.6% from three, exists. Watson went 30th in the 2022 draft to the Denver Nuggets, barely played as a rookie, and is now on his way to establishing himself as a valuable rotation piece.

The hope is also that James’ shooting is better than what he displayed as a college freshman. His indicators from high school were better than 27% from the perimeter. As a senior at Sierra Canyon, James averaged a much better 14 points per game. Instead, it seemed like James’ confidence in his three-point shot towards the end of his sole USC season veered from a lack of conversions and rhythm on the court. 

If he can show real progression, then he can have a role at the next level as a 3-and-D guard who makes connective plays on both ends and reliably spaces the floor, despite needing to improve his creation off the dribble as a guard-sized player.

Ahead of the draft, James will be represented by Klutch Sports CEO Rich Paul, who also represents his father LeBron James. Klutch’s list of draftees in 2023 included Dereck Lively II (12th pick), Noah Clowney (21st pick) and Chris Livingston (58th pick). 

The Los Angeles Lakers, who have been linked with James, are currently projected to have the 55th pick this season. However, Paul told ESPN in March that Bronny’s draft decision would be based on the “right developmental situation,” which does not only include sharing the floor with his father.

What is Bronny James’ future in college?

If Bronny eventually opts to not enter the NBA Draft, then he will pursue other collegiate options. 

As a recruit, James took an unofficial visit to Ohio State. Oregon and the Australian NBL were also involved in his recruitment to different extents. 

If the Ohio State option is to be revisited, then it should be mentioned that the Buckeyes recently named Jake Diebler as the team’s new head coach. Diebler, who was previously a video coordinator and an assistant at the program, was initially named interim head coach before being yet again promoted.

Bronny’s brother, Bryce James, has also taken an unofficial visit to Ohio State but he will only now be finishing his junior year of high school at Sierra Canyon. USC had also been linked to the youngest James brother, but that option now appears unlikely following Bronny’s departure. 

Another possibility that is suddenly in the picture is Duquesne. The Dukes returned to the NCAA men’s tournament after 47 years under head coach Keith Dambrot. Dambrot, who coached LeBron James in high school at St. Vincent-St. Mary, retired at the end of this season and will be replaced by Dru Joyce III. Joyce’s promotion was announced by LeBron, his high school teammate In 2022, the Pittsburgh program offered Bryce James a scholarship.

There is no recent buzz on Oregon, and the NBL this week named Kenny Smith its North American Head of Next Stars’ Player Initiatives but everything points towards James remaining stateside.