Bronny James underwhelms in four-point debut as Lakers lose to Kings at California Classic

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Bronny James made his long-awaited NBA debut on Saturday when the Los Angeles Lakers faced off against the Sacramento Kings in the California Classic, a pre-cursor to the league’s annual Vegas Summer League, and all things considered, it was a somewhat underwhelming performance. James shot 2-of-9 from the field and missed both of his free throws in a 108-94 loss to the Kings. He finished the game with four points, two assists, two rebounds and a steal.

James, the eldest son of NBA legend LeBron James, struggled for fairly predictable reasons. The biggest question mark about his game as the No. 55 overall pick in last month’s draft was his jump shot. His path to success in the NBA, given his limitations as a shot-creator, was always going to come through the 3-and-D role player route. But on Saturday, he attempted five shots outside of the paint and made only one of them. His only conversion inside of the paint came on a layup. His jump shot looked shaky throughout the game.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t positives. James has a good feel for the game and knows how to play within an offense. He was decisive as a ball-handler, turning this handoff into a quick drive for a layup that gave him his first professional points.

In the third quarter, he shook off a defender with a nice behind-the-back dribble and sank a mid-range look.

“I was just trying to focus on being aggressive, going downhill and get a layup out of it,” James said of his shot selection after the game. “But that wasn’t open all the time, so I had to settle for the mid-range. My coach always told me to get downhill, especially because I’m a bigger guard, and use my body to create open lanes for myself, and maybe open up for Colin [Castleton] sometimes, but he was just telling me to be aggressive downhill because of my athleticism as well.”

Defense has been Bronny’s best trait as a prospect since high school, and he was a bit more successful on that end of the floor. He was active, coming up with several deflections and notching a steal in the box score. However, his size did prove to be a bit of an issue in certain matchups. James isn’t even 6-foot-2, which gives him a pretty unusual body for 3-and-D standards, as that archetype typically relies on longer wings as opposed to small guards.

There were glimpses of what will give James a path to success in the NBA this game, but a lot of the flaws that made him a late-second-round prospect were also on display. His defensive activity, especially at the point of attack, is going to serve him well early on. But he’s too small to defend multiple positions at a high level, so if he doesn’t develop a jump shot, he’s just not going to be able to justify any sort of consistent role. That jumper looked like it needed work on Saturday just as it has throughout his entire amateur career.

Summer League struggles by no means suggest disappointing careers. James has a long way to go, and one game that wasn’t even played in Vegas won’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. He looked more or less like the prospect that the wider basketball world believed him to be on Saturday: a flawed yet promising role player who needs to improve if he’s going to stick in the NBA.

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