The best guard in the state of Illinois, Jalen Brunson, has decided to bring his talents to the Main Line, committing to Villanova over Illinois on Wednesday, adding to a strong 2015 class already including Donte DiVincenzo and Tim Delaney.
From what I've seen in person on the recruiting circuit this summer, Brunson is likely the most complete guard in the country and could start for a bevy of teams as soon as he leaves Adlai Stevenson. But the real question is: can Brunson compete at a high volume at the next level and how soon will he be a starter for the Wildcats?
The first answer is emphatically yes. The second, however, won't be figured out until he gets to Villanova. Brunson has expressed that he and Ryan Arcidiacono can co-exist on the same court, and in theory I'd agree, but that's something we'd have to see next year.
The only shaky thing that comes to mind about Brunson at Villanova is this thought:
Brunson said he's going to stay at Villanova all four years.— Tyler R. Tynes (@TylerRickyTynes) September 10, 2014
Any fan of Villanova wants a guy like Brunson to be on campus for four years. It's a huge recruiting boost, it brings the program more wins, and it's always exciting to see a top-tier basketball player actually play four years and get their degree. The only skepticism is: will a player of his caliber stay longer than two seasons on the Main Line? I guess that's another thing we'll have to wait and find out.
As far as Brunson's talent himself, let's break down his game to fully understand what Nova is getting in a year's time.
Scouting Report: Jalen Brunson
Weight: 180-190 lbs
AAU: Mac Irvin Fire
Position: Needs to play PG, not a combo guard, shouldn't be played as one
Way too early NBA Comparison: Has is game is a mix of Deron Williams/Michael Conley Jr./Kyle Lowry, undersized physical point guards with the ability to score in bunches but plays better with a solid team around them.
- Three point shooting is very strong, can get his feet set quickly, usually will see him pulling up after bringing the ball up or using a triple-threat series to open up space on the perimeter to hit a jumper, can also use screens - some but not much - to get his feet set off the ball for a corner three
- Great ball handling, has a nice snap to his crossover, doesn't have a complex dribble package but does enough to keep defenders on their heels and gets them reaching, changes speeds well that leaves his defenders guessing
- Mid-range shooting is very solid, can hit from anywhere around the free throw line and really anywhere inside the perimeter consistently
- Finishes well around the basket, shows ambidexterity around the rim, soft touch in the lane, solid midrange game equipped with a floater, uses good spin on his layups which helps tough finishes in transition and between defenders, very physical guard
- Change of pace moves are very good for his level, has the same strong change of pace moves Khalif Wyatt had and progressed at Temple for four years, similar to Chauncey Billups and Baron Davis the way he can use his body and shoulders to get defenders guessing which way they will lean, very tricky with his using all of his options on the dribble at his level
- Shifty ball handling is different from his change of pace, not very quick with his movements but will do enough to make someone guess
- Uses the 1-4, 1-5 pick-and-roll well, puts his teammates in a position to score and puts himself in a position to score as well, can use screen rejection and good IQ to decide what is the best play coming from the P&R, can hit his man quickly if he rolls to the basket late
- Off the charts IQ and passing ability is strong, can feed bullet passes in a tight window if necessary, very flashy passer in high school, that tendency could translate to the next level but might not, because it could devolve and become erratic.
- Brunson is a capable but not a knockdown shooter, has a tendency to pass up many open looks which could end up being detrimental depending on the game situation
- On-ball/perimeter defense needs work, he's a capable defender but not the best, works well with a good big man backing him up or a solid rim protector rather than if he's on a island by himself. Won't lock the best player on the floor down
- Very average athlete, won't wow anybody in a recruiting class full of "mixtape athletic" players, has short arms which will affect how he affects the passing lanes on defense
- Very basic dribble package, doesn't change direction or turn corners too well, could work on how well he changes speeds, does it well now but needs some work for the next stage
- Midrange is good, but needs a more dominant in-between game and some confidence using it. Has a floater but it's not frequently used getting over much taller defenders, lacks creativity once he's 15 feet and in
- If he ever wants to play at the NBA level or be elite, he needs to become a threat as a shooter
Analysis and Outlook: Brunson could end up being a solid role player for an NBA team down the road due to his physicality and game-management-style point guard play. He can get his teammates involved and isn't scared to go to the cup and is developing as an elite scorer, though he isn't there yet. He's limited athletically which limits his NBA potential currently, but he's going to be a solid starter at the NCAA level. Right now, he could be a 10-year player in the NBA, shifting from starter to Sixth Man to 1st guard off the bench type of player.
Now let's break down a few plays where Brunson looks his best:
1) Triple Threat Moves + Finishing strong around the rim
As noted, Brunson can finish strongly around the rim and has a nice touch no matter how many men are around him. One of his favorite moves on the perimeter that makes him deadly is the jab-step. Brunson can come out of the triple threat in a multitude of ways, put the ball on the floor and make a flashy finish at the rim.
Here's an example of that:
His triple threat moves, majorly his jab step or pump-and-go moves, can get a defender into the air and get him to the rim as well. Brunson does well at attacking the defender closing out on the perimeter.
Brunson's ability on the perimeter isn't as a shooter, which isn't really the Villanova mold, but he does give the team something it didn't have last season and may not have this season: a player that can get to the lane from the perimeter and create his own offense. Once a player like Brunson gets to the lane after leaving his defender, a world of opportunities open up and the offense is likely getting open looks on the perimeter or an easy bucket in the lane.
2) Finishing through contact + Over taller defenders
Another thing Brunson does well is finishing in transition and finishing over much taller defenders. Just as in the previous clips, he can use his ambidexterity to switch hands mid lay-up and finish at the rim, a skill that not many guards, at any level, can do well.
Here he's off a rebound in transition and almost gets clocked by two defenders, uses a side-step gather to free himself of one trailer and then switches hands for a flashy finish.
In the same game, a few plays later, he grabs another loose ball and runs in transition by himself. This play is where Brunson started drawing early comparisons to beefy guards like Chauncey Billups and Baron Davis because he could dip his shoulder like many undersized, but broad-shouldered guards.
He takes his gather, its very drawn out and lowers his shoulder into the chest of the defender which shakes him off balance and then uses his small opening to finish high off the glass. Another play that shows Brunson's high IQ on the floor. He had two men running their respective transition lanes with him and instead he found the right play for the score.
3) Passing ability + Overall court vision and IQ
Brunson has two elite abilities in his skill set, his ability to penetrate and his court vision, and the latter is probably more useful and will prove to be when he gets to the college level and if he makes it to the NBA. Brunson can manage games, use P&R and just handle being a pure point guard better than most in his class.
But one thing that goes into that is his ability to find a player streaking to the lane. Though he can score in bunches, he's better at getting his teammates involved before himself. While in the air or on a dribble-drive penetration move, he can squeeze passes through a tight window even if he's being face-guarded.
He gets his teammates so involved that they've made their own "Brunson Bench Mob'
4) Improving Midrange game
Brunson doesn't have the best midrange and in between game in the world, another thing he will need to work hard on before he gets to the next level as well as his defense and his consistent shooting touch. But what he has shown is an improvement in his shooting touch from 15-feet and in.
The young guard has been known screen reject a P&R on his right shoulder, use a jab step motioning that way and come off to his left (primary hand) and use a midrange elbow jumper. He also can just use a triple-threat move and get his man in the air for a midrange shot. Those are his best moves in the midrange so far.
He's also working on a small pivot move in the lane where he can elevate over defenders or fade away from them and uses two hands for the shot, a modified type of floater. If his midrange game can keep progressing or he adds a few more pieces to it, counter moves in the lane or just improves how consistent his shooting could be, he'd be very deadly from all over the floor.
Lastly, Brunson will be a gem for Villanova at the next level. He's not a knock-down shooter compared to some of Nova's other marksman. He's not a top-tier athlete, he has short arms so there will be questions on how he will affect the passing lanes on defense and his overall defense is a tad questionable right now. But his game-management style, heady point guard play plus his ability to get to the lane whenever he wants and create for his teammates makes up for his weaknesses.
If he ran the point, Arch the 2, Josh Hart at the 3, Jenkins the 4 and Ochefu the center with Mikal Bridges, Phil Booth Jr., Dylan Ennis, DiVincenzo, Daryl Reynolds, and Tim Delaney on the bench, Villanova could be looking at another Sweet Sixteen to Elite Eight appearance in two years or less.
That's if they can get everything working properly. It's too early to judge, but there definitely has to be some excitement brewing on the Main Line.