Bronny James gives USC basketball instant name recognition, but he’s not the Trojans’ best player

Casual sports fans — in and beyond Los Angeles — are going to pay attention to USC men’s basketball now that Bronny James is a Trojan. That’s great for the USC basketball brand. The Trojans are finally going to taste a sample of what UCLA basketball has normally enjoyed as a matter of course for decades since the John Wooden years: preferred status as the popular men’s college basketball program in Los Angeles. For one season, USC will be the hotter ticket than UCLA, at least at the start of the campaign.

USC hoops will be the media-magnet program. It’s great for publicity, and it gives the Trojans and Andy Enfield a chance to build their brand and reach whole new levels of national relevance.

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Bronny James is giving USC that opportunity because of his name, his family, and most centrally, his father.

However: While Bronny is putting USC squarely in the national headlines and making USC hoops popular with casual sports fans, let’s be very clear about a few things connected to USC basketball and next season’s roster. Bronny is the most recognizable player on this USC team, but he isn’t the best player. Let’s start there and then continue our conversation:

ISAIAH COLLIER WILL BRING OUT THE BEST IN BRONNY JAMES

Mar 28, 2023; Houston, TX, USA; West players (from left) Jared McCain, Bronny James and Ron Holland II during the McDonald’s All American Boy’s high school basketball game at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

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Isaiah Collier ended this recruiting cycle as the No. 1-ranked recruit in the country. Bronny is a top-20 recruit, but Collier is viewed as the best of the best. Collier is a lock to be a one-and-done player. Bronny could be a one-and-done, but Collier will be. It’s Collier who can put Bronny in the best position to succeed, not the other way around. We need to be clear about that.

BOOGIE ELLIS

Mar 28, 2023; Houston, TX, USA; McDonald’s All American West guard Bronny James (6) warms up prior to the game against the McDonald’s All American East at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

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Bronny will share the floor not only with Isaiah Collier, but with Boogie Ellis, a 17-points-per-game scorer last season who has ample experience and ability. The clear point to emphasize is that Bronny is not going to be the leader of the pack. He will need to work in tandem with Collier and Boogie and understand what they want and how they see the game. Bronny will get lots of good shots as a result of what Collier and Boogie do to occupy opposing defenses. He will need to be ready to make those shots on a consistent basis, but he won’t be initiating USC’s offense most of the time. If Andy Enfield wants to give Collier and Boogie a rest, maybe Bronny will take on some ballhandling duties, but that won’t be the normal default setting in USC’s offense. Collier will be the main ballhandler whenever he is on the court.

LEBRON'S INFLUENCE

Feb 9, 2023; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (6) sons Bronny and Bryce James attend a game against the Milwaukee Bucks at Crypto.com Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

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LeBron James is a special and iconic basketball player for many reasons. One of the things which made LeBron great from a very early age was his willingness to set up teammates. LeBron would make the pass to open shooters on the wings and in the corners. He often got criticized for it, but he was making a smart basketball play, trusting his teammates and making sure they were integrated into the offense. Bronny can tap into that at USC, especially when he and Boogie are on the floor without Isaiah Collier. When Enfield rests Collier, it’s reasonable to think Bronny and Boogie will be together. Those minutes (which, again, won’t be extended minutes during USC games this season) will be a time when Bronny can create for Boogie and also USC’s big men, Vince Iwuchukwu and Josh Morgan, maybe also Kijani Wright.

DEFENSE

Mar 28, 2023; Houston, TX, USA; West guard Bronny James (6) poses for a family photo with grandmother Gloria Marie James, mother Savannah James , brother Bryce Maximus James, sister Zhuri Nova James and father LeBron James following the McDonald’s All American Boy’s high school basketball game at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

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How many minutes will Bronny James get at USC? It’s a big question, given the presence of Collier and Boogie, who will both get starter-level minutes without question. They are the two foremost stars on the team, and they don’t face the health questions Vince Iwuchukwu has been dealing with.

If Bronny wants to get extended minutes — and if USC wants to put Bronny together with Collier and Boogie for prolonged periods of play this upcoming season — it will ultimately depend on Bronny being able to play top-level defense.

Collier and Boogie — maybe also Iwuchukwu — can create plenty of offense when on the floor together. Bronny might need to hit open jumpers when Collier drives and kicks, drawing defenses into the paint and giving Bronny open 3-pointers on the wing, but if he plays elite defense, he will have a place on the floor. Collier and Boogie can handle the scoring load. Bronny, by playing superb defense, will make sure Collier and Boogie don’t have to overextend themselves at the defensive end of the floor. USC will have the roster balance needed to win games in different kinds of ways.

ONE AND DONE

Mar 27, 2023; Houston, TX, USA; McDonald’s All American West guard Bronny James (6) dunks the ball during the Powerade Jam Fest at Delmar Athletic Complex. Mandatory Credit: Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sport

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Is Bronny James a one-and-done player? It is established that LeBron James wants to play in the NBA while Bronny is also in the league. However, Bronny might not be a one-and-done player. That is still up for debate. Bronny would need to evolve enough at USC that he can make the leap in one year. With Collier and Boogie on the floor this season, Bronny — who would be “The Guy” in the 2024-2025 season and would have a lot more responsibilities on his plate — might need that second year to be fully prepared for the pros. We’ll see. The key point to make is that Bronny has to earn one-and-done status with his play. He has to be a top-tier defensive player and a competent shooter who makes defenses pay for focusing on Isaiah Collier and Boogie Ellis. If he checks those two boxes, we can reasonably advance the one-and-done conversation with Bronny James.

Story originally appeared on Trojans Wire