Bronny James’ NBA Summer League Debut – Takeaways from California Classic

Bronny James made his summer league debut for the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday, scoring four points on 2 of 9 shooting in a 108-94 loss to the Sacramento Kings in the opening game of the California Classic.

The Lakers’ 55th pick in last month’s draft, James scored his first points on a drive midway through the second quarter and added a pair of other highlights in his 21 minutes on the court, including a steal that set up a fast-break bucket and a 17-foot jumper off a stepback. James added two assists and two rebounds.

What stood out the most from James’ debut and what can we expect from his next Summer League appearance? Our NBA insiders break down his performance and what it means for the offseason ahead.

Bronny James made his summer league debut _____.

Kendra Andrews: Quiet, and that’s okay. There’s only so much to learn from Game 1 of the California Classic. James and fellow rookie Dalton Knecht both struggled on the court — Knecht scored 12 points on 3-of-12 shooting — so that’s something to keep an eye on as summer league continues. It wasn’t surprising that James didn’t have a great debut, and it will be more important to see incremental improvements as his summer league season continues.

Baxter Holmes: No incidents, and that’s more than fine. He’ll have to get used to playing with and against fringe NBA players, and that’s what summer league is for. His numbers won’t mean much, and that’s not unusual. In 2012, Memphis Grizzlies guard Josh Selby, a second-round pick in 2011, was named co-MVP of the summer league after averaging 24.2 points in five games. He’s played just 38 games in his NBA career. In 2009, Warriors forward Anthony Randolph, the 13th overall pick in 2008, averaged 26.8 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. He averaged 7.1 points in six NBA seasons before playing in Russia and Spain. The lesson, as NBA executives have long repeated, is not to overreact to summer league performances, whether they’re good, bad or somewhere in between. Future stars have flourished, future failures have flourished.

Dave McMenamin: Expected. His production wasn’t all that different from what he did as a freshman at USC. The most significant part of his day, for me, was the Lakers’ commitment to starting him and giving him a lot of playing time, even when he struggled with his shot. Growing pains can be tough to watch with thousands of fans in the stands, but it’s a necessary part of the process if James is to become the player he and the Lakers hope he will be. He’s far from finished, but the game proved that LA is indeed investing in his development.

What have we learned about James’ game?

McMenamin: He can turn defense into offense. His best play of the day was jumping into a passing lane to get a steal and immediately pushing it to the other side to give the Lakers a fast-break score with the hockey assist to forward Blake Hinson, who threw the ball off to guard Kyle Mangas at the rim. James nearly got a steal in the Kings’ backcourt later in the game with the same quick burst to intercept a pass, but stepped out on the sideline before securing possession. The Lakers will be hoping James’ play can translate to tough perimeter defense, and any offense that results from that would be a bonus.

Holmes: On defense, I saw a few examples of opponents trying to break James off the dribble, then stepping back for a jumper or trying to drive to the rim. Because of who he is — and who his father is — there will undoubtedly be examples of players trying to score on him, if only to prove a point. He’ll experience this multiple times in summer league and most likely throughout his career.

Andrews: That he probably won’t be a ball handler this season, especially when he’s bringing the ball up the court. Maybe it’s a matter of confidence, or maybe it’s just not the role they see him playing, but James rarely handled the rock in transition, on an inbounds pass, or simply to set up a play. At 6’2”, he’s more of a point guard size; however, it doesn’t seem like the Lakers see him as a major facilitator just yet.

What’s on at James’ next Summer League game?

Holmes: I would keep an eye on his overall decision-making. He’s still getting to know his teammates, just like he is, and there were times when you could tell he was trying to figure out when to defer or be aggressive. It’s hard to imagine the amount of expectations that are on him and how that’s exacerbated. Once he plays a few games, I think he’ll be more comfortable. But one thing he really has to balance — and that played out Saturday — is the crowd reaction and the calls to shoot every time he touches the ball, with fans screaming at him to shoot or drive to the basket whether he was free or not. James is going to have to adjust to the overall noise of expectations around him, and the crowd reaction Saturday was an early sign of that.

Andrews: I would pay attention to any offensive improvements he makes, particularly his shooting, but also what kind of defense he can put together. The ability to do the little things is what will help James earn playing time next season, and his point-of-attack defense has been highlighted. In his first game, he struggled to defend Adonis Arms, who finished with 32 points and even shook James to his feet on the first play of the game.

McMenamin: This was James’ first basketball game since mid-March — there was an understandable layer of rust to shake off. Now that the first-game jitters are over, James can show a little more, game by game, as this new phase starts to feel less foreign. It’s clear from the way James approaches the game, harking back to his high school days, that he doesn’t suddenly want to score 30 points in one of these games. Maybe next game he won’t get caught between a pull-up and a floater, as he did in an attempt on Saturday; or maybe he’ll take another hard dribble after catching a defender on the hip — as the Lakers’ summer league coach Dane Johnson said after the game — and finish with another easy look at the rim. Baby steps, in other words.

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