ESPN national recruiting director Paul Biancardi scouted LeBron James in the early 2000s, back when Biancardi was a college assistant at Ohio State and LeBron was a high school sophomore. Biancardi has more recently had several opportunities to scout James’ son, Bronny James, who is about to enter his sophomore season at Sierra Canyon School in Chatsworth, California. With James appearing in the ESPN 25 for the Class of 2023 for the first time on Tuesday, Biancardi compared what he sees with the younger James to the skills his father demonstrated at the same stage of development.
You scouted LeBron James as a high schooler, and you’ve now scouted Bronny James at the same level. Do you see any similarities in their games? What are the main differences?
They are very similar at this stage when it comes to passing — both love to be facilitators and can impact the game with their unselfishness. Remember that LeBron could have easily been the all-time leading scorer in the state of Ohio (he graduated at No. 3 all-time, and is now No. 5), but was a willing playmaker who possessed uncanny vision and pinpoint accuracy. Bronny has played at a high level, and demonstrated that same affinity for dropping dimes to his teammates. During the high school season against his dad’s alma mater St. Vincent- St. Mary, Bronny made one of the best passes I witnessed all season — an alley-oop to Brandon Boston thrown from just over half court. He passed the ball across his body to deliver a perfect alley-oop that was on time and on target.
At the same stage, Bronny also exhibits the same level of poise throughout the game, an above-average basketball IQ and the ability to make the right play.
Bronny James threads the needle and finds Amari Bailey for the layup.
A main difference at the same stage is in their approach. LeBron would look to take over games with an aggressive style, both within his age group and while facing older players. When LeBron was in high school, he was the star of the team. As a freshman at the varsity level this past season, Bronny was surrounded by older, top-level talent and deferred more — which was smart. This will naturally change as he gets older. When Bronny plays his age group, he is more aggressive, scores with variety and you can feel his presence as one of the best players on the court.
It should also be noted that when it comes to shooting the ball from the outside, Bronny’s jumper is ahead of where his dad’s was. Neither shot could be described as “pure,” but Bronny has slightly better range and accuracy than LeBron did at this stage.
And of course, the biggest difference is that very few people knew who LeBron was before high school. The outside expectations are unprecedented for Bronny. LeBron’s performances in his early high school days created an enormous amount of excitement, so much so that we stopped recruiting him at Ohio State as a junior — he’d already played himself into an NBA lottery pick and would become the No. 1 choice. LeBron’s success has guaranteed an intense level of social media scrutiny for Bronny, and expectations and pressure from fans that is unrealistic.
Still, Bronny has handled every moment extremely well, with maturity, and even embraced the spotlight to some degree. I can see his dad’s influence on his game, and definitely on his traits of being a good teammate, respecting the game and striving for completeness as a player. Bronny is his own person and player, will run his own race and will get where he needs to be based on his own talent and traits.
B.J. Boston dishes to Bronny James Jr. who makes the open 3-pointer.
If you were coaching Bronny right now, what are the most important elements of his game you’d have him working on?
Shooting, ballhandling (especially under pressure) and finishing.
The first and most important thing Bronny can do is become a drop-dead 3-point shooter both off the catch and off the dribble. That will take time — it’s a huge process and a major commitment — but can also open up his offensive game. It will make him a legitimate threat behind a ball screen, coming off a screen, or spotting up from a teammate’s penetration. Once the jumper is respected, Bronny can drive and become even more dangerous.
Mastering the mid-range jumper, especially when coming downhill off a ball screen, and polishing up an already nice floater will also be key. Once Bronny enters the paint — and to complement his floater — learning to operate from a jump stop is his next step.
When it comes to handling the ball, Bronny will face strong defenders as he gets older. The next level of development for Bronny will be to show he is comfortable and confident utilizing both hands, playing lower, changing his speed and direction. When the defense applies the heat, his development of the all-important “retreat dribble” will be needed to shake off defenders.
Finally, once near the rim, the ability to finish effectively and efficiently with both hands on both sides of the rim will be critical. .
Bronny James Jr. zips a pass inside to Shy Odom for a Sierra Canyon lay-in.
How key is Bronny’s physical growth going to be in your future evaluations of him? If he approaches his father’s height of 6-foot-9, or stays closer to his current listed height of 6-foot-2, how much will that disparity matter? How will it impact what position he plays at future levels?
More height allows Bronny to become more of a multidimensional player. If not, his focus will be as a point guard.
He already has good ball skills, advanced vision and IQ, and those qualities will only evolve and improve over the next three years. When you factor in a possible height change, and additional wingspan, it enhances Bronny’s paint scoring ability, playmaking talent, rebounding and defensive versatility. If he grows, we are talking about a potential big guard in a forward’s frame, with versatility on both ends of the floor.
If he doesn’t grow, he still will be one of the best in his class but will need to hone in on becoming a scoring point guard who can be a playmaker, shot maker and defender of opposing point guards.
In the summer before his freshman year, LeBron grew close to 6-4 and was an elite athlete. By his sophomore year, according to St. Vincent-St. Mary coach Dru Joyce II, LeBron was 6-6 and would grow to 6-7 by his senior year. Bronny’s physical growth could determine how he impacts the game at the highest level. His ultimate potential will be greater if he can get that growth spurt that his dad had, although in today’s game, shooting the ball at a high clip puts you on the floor regardless of your size.
During warm-ups, Bronny James rises up for a reverse dunk just like the ones his dad and Kobe Bryant did.
At this moment, are you evaluating Bronny as a one-and-done/G League path candidate, or would his game and development be best suited to a college environment?
The “one and done” choice is a long way off for Bronny, and his potential to go that route will be based solely on a high school performance level that we simply can’t assess yet.
When you look at him right now, he plays a team game, seems to enjoy being part of a team and is a good teammate, characteristics that would make him ideal for the college game. I can see Bronny thriving among peers in a campus setting — he would certainly bring excitement and impact to college basketball. If he projects as a multiple-year player at the collegiate level, college would seem a natural choice.
The new G League path that Jalen Green and others have opted for is more for those that want to try and get into the NBA as quickly as possible, or who place a higher value on the financial component and want to train during the day versus fulfilling academic requirements. Players going that route may miss out on the incomparable atmosphere of packed arenas on national TV, but they are compensated very well.
Bronny James drops 15 points, including the go-ahead layup in front of his dad, LeBron, to lead Sierra Canyon past St.Vincent-St. Mary.
By the time he is ready to make that decision, one can only imagine how big Bronny’s brand will be, but brands don’t equate to automatic success at higher levels. When his body, skills, habits and maturity all blend together, that will be Bronny’s time to assess the next level.
Based on his current performances against his peers, with the same up-and-down moments all young players experience, Bronny is in a terrific spot. With game improvement and his physical measurables changing, he will certainly influence the game more and become more consistent and productive.
Whatever happens over the next three seasons, Bronny should be in no rush.