Jalen Brunson has been one of the best players in college basketball, but fans may be surprised to learn he is not a lock to be a first round pick if he declares for the 2018 NBA draft. Brunson averaged 19.3 points, 4.6 assists and 3 rebounds per game this season at Villanova. Heavy has Brunson outside the first round in our latest mock draft. ESPN projects him as the first pick of the second round (No. 31). Sports Illustrated’s Jeremy Woo has Brunson as his 34th ranked NBA prospect.
Why are draft analysts so low on Brunson? The Villanova point guard is the kind of player that tends to get passed over in the draft for younger more athletic players considered to have more upside. Brunson is a junior who lacks some of the athletic characteristics teams look for at the next level, but could offer a team value at the end of the first round.
ESPN’s Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz described Brunson’s game when previewing his matchup against Texas Tech’s Keenan Evans.
Neither are prolific distributors or considered great athletes, so it will be interesting to see them on the same floor together to get a better feel for their physical tools. What they do bring their teams is tremendous leadership, toughness and experience as essential cogs for why they got here in the first place. They are prolific pick-and-roll players who get their offense in very different ways…the thick-framed Brunson has been arguably the best off-the-dribble shot-maker in college basketball this season, while also seeing significant time operating in the post. Both players made themselves NBA prospects based off their productivity.
Here’s how Woo describes Brunson’s game.
The son of former NBA guard and current Timberwolves assistant Rick Brunson, Jalen has the benefit of having grown up around the league and has an elite feel for running an offense. He relies on his considerable craft to compensate for a lack of top-flight quickness and understands how to pick his spots, change speed and direction and score the ball. Brunson is also a good three-point shooter, and his steely on-court demeanor will appeal to teams. Defensively he’ll have to work hard to cut it, but he’s too intelligent not to figure things out
The following is my overview of Brunson’s strengths, weaknesses and how the Villanova guard projects in the NBA.
Jalen Brunson NBA Draft Porfile
Strengths: Brunson is one of the best scorers in college basketball with the majority of his baskets coming at the rim or behind the three-point line. Brunson has become a prolific three-point shooter going 42.3 percent from behind the arc on 194 attempts this season making it a strong sample size. Brunson shoots over 80 percent from the free throw line, a stat many evaluators believe is a better indicator of whether a player will be able to shoot in the NBA.
Brunson performs well in plus/minus statistics coming in at 9.8 for the 2017-18 season. This is up from his freshman number of 4.7. The Villanova guard also has the benefit of growing up with a father who spent time in the league as both a player and coach.
Weaknesses: At 6’3″, Brunson is not small, but lacks the athleticism of most NBA guards. While Brunson measures a 9.8 in overall plus/minus, he is just .7 on defense against college players who mostly lack the explosiveness he will face at the next level. Brunson is likely to start out as a defensive liability in the NBA.
The Villanova guard has no problem playing with his back to the basket, a part of his game reminiscent of Mark Jackson. It would be surprising if he is able to back down NBA guards with the same level of success. The biggest knock on Brunson is his athleticism, but his shooting ability could keep him on the floor.
Summary: Brunson reminds me a bit of Jameer Nelson coming out of St. Joe’s. Brunson is a lot bigger than Nelson, but lacks a lot of the measureables heading into the league. Like Nelson, Brunson is a pure scorer, and an even better shooter than Nelson was coming out of St. Joe’s. Brunson can immediately plug into an NBA roster as a backup point guard who knows how to help turn around a team. Like Malcolm Brogdon from a few years ago, an NBA team could end up getting a steal on Brunson later in the draft, given he is not as sexy of a prospect as some of the younger, athletic players in the draft. You know what you are getting with Brunson, and even if he never surpasses being a role player in the league, he offers great value for where he is likely to get drafted.