(First posted at RealGM)
It’s hard to find another 21-year-old American below the pro level as accomplished as Jalen Brunson.
The six-foot-two lead guard accumulated 3,351 minutes of college basketball experience over his four years at Villanova. After redshirting the first year, he went on to run point for two teams that won the National Championship.
On top of that, he has under his belt 293 minutes defending the United States National Team at the 2014 U18 FIBA Americas and at the 2015 U19 FIBA World Cup, where he was the MVP on a team that had Jayson Tatum, Josh Jackson and Harry Giles on it.
Having played a lot of high level games in his career, Brunson is a savvy point guard who knows how to control the pace of the game, regularly finding the right mix between passing ahead to speed up the tempo and walking it up to run half-court offense.
He was the triggerman of an offense that attempted some early possession ball movement but was usually burdened with creating against a set defense midway through the shot clock – posting 26.3% usage rate and assisting on 26.6% of Villanova’s scores when he was on the floor last season.
Most of his work was done in middle high pick-and-roll and in isolation off ball reversals but Brunson is best known for his post game, as Villanova inverted the offense often.
On the other end, the native of Lincolnshire, Illinois is strong enough and tough enough to guard bigger players, which he did quite a bit in college because Villanova switched aggressively on all screens. But he struggles in individual defense against similarly-sized players due to lack of great quickness and lacks length to create events or contest shots effectively.
Brunson can create separation to get his shots off in isolation by unleashing an in-and-out dribble, relying on stop-and-start quickness and crossing over or hang dribbling into his pull-ups.
But he doesn’t have an explosive first step to blow by his defender, even big men on switches, and isn’t very fast with the ball turning the corner off pick-and-roll – taking just 26.6% of his shots at the basket and averaging 5.1 free throws per 40 minutes.
When he gets into the lane off dribble penetration, Brunson is looking to create for others. Aside from basic last-second drop-offs and kick-outs against a collapsing defense, he also proved he is able to pass across his body to the opposite end.
Brunson protects the ball in traffic and reads the help defenders well when he is passing on the move – turning it over on just 10.6% of his possessions, which is particularly impressive considering his high usage and assist rates.
What differentiates Brunson from other small shot creators is his post game, though.
He has a thick 198-pound frame in the context of his height and uses his strength to get a deep seal. Brunson can also scan the floor and assist cutters off split actions and shooters relocating around the perimeter with his back to the basket.
SHOOTING & FINISHING
He uses head fakes, shot fakes and jab steps to get his shots off out of the low post in ways you rarely see from big men these days, let alone guards, especially as he mixes in some power moves too.
Brunson has shown to be an effective scorer not just with hooks and face-up jump-shots off those jab-steps but turnaround fade-away jumpers as well – nailing a staggering 51.5% of his 169 two-point shots away from the basket last season.
Part of those is mid-range jumpers coming off his operation in isolation and off pick-and-roll. He is not an impressively dynamic pull-up shooter but has proven he can burn drop-back defense, even from long range – hitting 30 unassisted three-pointers.
When he managed to get all the way to the basket, Brunson showed he has some limitations in physical talent to finish among the trees. He is not an explosive leaper off one foot in traffic, lacks length to over-extend himself for scoop finishes or to complete reverses around rim protectors and isn’t flexible enough to adjust his body in the air.
What Brunson is capable of within close range is finish through contact, euro-step through traffic and make speed layups with either hand – finishing his 138 attempts at the rim at a 70.3% clip.
Off the ball, Brunson proved he is a very good open shot shooter – nailing 39.3% of his 450 three-pointers over his three years at Villanova, at a pace of 5.4 such attempts per 40 minutes. His 82% foul shooting on 405 free throws creates the expectation that he will be just as good a shooter in the pros.
Brunson bends his knees to get down in a stance and works to go over picks at the point of attack, though his frame doesn’t really help him get skinny to try beating his man to a spot on the other side. But he does hustle back and plays with active hands trying to strip the dribble driver of the ball from behind.
Brunson has multiple lateral slides in him to stay in front in isolation but doesn’t use his strength to contain dribble penetration through contact regularly and can’t contest shots effectively due to his eight-foot standing reach.
Off the ball, Brunson is not quick enough to run shooters off their shots on closeouts and is below average in terms of making plays in the passing lanes, in part due to his six-foot-four wingspan but also because he doesn’t fly around with any intensity.
His contribution on the defensive glass was marginal as well and he wasn’t any sort of an asset in rim protection, lacking length and leaping ability to make plays rotating in help defense, other than drawing the eventual charge.
What Brunson brings to the table on this end is versatility picking up bigger players on switches, mostly wings. He is strong enough to get physical with them, hold his ground in the post and put up a challenge.
It wasn’t enough to make him a plus on this end, though. He had the second worst defensive rating on the team among rotation players.
 DOB: 8/31/1996
EDITOR’S NOTE: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara