Jalen Brunson: Evaluation

Whether it's playing with fellow elites, shouldering the scoring burden himself, pressing the issue to biding his time, Jalen Brunson always seems to be in command.


Introduction

A player like Jalen Brunson always will have his skeptics. He's a little small, somewhat stodgily built and not super quick. Those aren't qualities that typically entice fans, but Brunson is accustomed to getting overlooked and that hasn't prevented him from establishing himself as arguably the No. 1 point guard in the Class of 2015.

The son of former Temple star and NBA veteran Rick Brunson, Jalen obviously enjoyed a head start in terms of publicity. He emerged as a high school freshman and has gained steam ever since, as with each passing year he becomes less his father's son and more his own athletic entity.

He competed at national events during the 2013 summer, teaming with Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander for the Mac Irvin Fire at the Peach Jam. His older teammates graduated in the spring, which left Brunson as the main man for the Fire as they embarked on the 2014 trail.

And he answered the bell resoundingly. Brunson's play ranged from good to extraordinary, and in the process he likely cinched a McDonald's All-American berth and set himself up for a dramatic fall recruitment.

In the end, he pledged to Villanova over Illinois. Brunson will be yet another blue-chip guard to play for Jay Wright's Wildcats, and despite 'Nova's track record he actually has a chance to become the best yet.

Assets

I'm a fan of southpaws, and Brunson derives handsome benefit from his unorthodoxy. His entire game exudes deception, as he changes speeds, darts horizontally and vertically without notice, uses his eyes to befuddle defenders and whip smart passes to big men for dunks, sets up jump shots after faking a pass, rubs opponents off screens they don't see coming, and on and on and on.

Brunson would have been right at home in the 1980s NBA. Which makes sense, I guess, because his father grew up playing in that basketball era. He relies on skill, intelligence and guile rather than size or athleticism, and for that reason, of course, he requires more time to win over onlookers accustomed to evaluating players according to the contemporary template.

For Brunson, both scoring and playmaking are consistent weapons

For a guy not noted for quickness and who stands only 6-0 even, Brunson excels at penetrating the lane. He possesses a powerful set of shoulders and lowers the boom without fouling, turning his hips to create lower body contact and then riding off the defender with his upper body.

He also dribbles very low to the ground, so he's able to handle the ball under would-be thieves and not prone to mis-dribbles that might slow him down or displace him from his intended driving line. He also drives left or right with equal effectiveness.

Brunson possesses remarkable balance. He's able to turn into the defender, as mentioned, but just as easily he turns away and then swivels to loft in a shot in traffic. He's less athletic overall, but in that regard he reminds of a young Damon Stoudamire.

He also loves to shoot from behind high ball screens and has range to 24 feet. Brunson can catch fire from long-range, and when he does the party doesn't stop until all the opponent's balloons have burst.

His quietly determined style also makes him a difficult guy to disrupt mentally, a critical competitive disposition for a point guard. The Fire needed him to score, but his 18-point average accompanied a strong seven assists per game as well.

Deficits

As much as we might admire and enjoy his playing style, it would be foolish to overlook Brunson's physical limitations. The bottom line is that he does lack height and has the kind of stocky body to suggest he's finished growing. He also has average quickness and doesn't jump particularly well. Long-term, his ability to finish in traffic may become problematic.

His shot selection also can be poor. Yes, the Fire needed him to carry the load this year, but in the course of scoring 18 points per game he shot just 39 percent from the floor. That number included a woeful 27 percent on threes. He's a good shooter but has to make certain to raise the quality of his attempts.

Outlook

Brunson's claim as the top floor general in the senior class has strengthened over the past year. He appeared to be a loose contender just 12 months ago, but now he's the frontrunner along with Arizona-bound Justin Simon.

While Simon and others rely heavily on physical talents, Brunson also is a proven and well-rounded player. Any doubters remaining have to point to what he hasn't done yet, because no one can take him to task for his production now.

And while it's reasonable to predict major challenges in the NBA should he progress that far, his physical composition looks just fine for college. Brunson projects as a freshman year starter and could become an all-conference type player as early as his rookie season. From there, he'll have that much more time to adapt to his future hurdles — and he's handled them emphatically thus far.


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