Jalen Brunson has become accustomed to winning accolades, which have built up a big name for him. Villanova’s young guard was named Mr. Basketball in the state of Illinois in 2015 and to the McDonald’s All-American games and Jordan Brand Classic. On top of that, he even played in the FIBA Under 19 World Championship, where he was named MVP of the entire tournament.
By accumulating all these awards, Brunson received a top 50 ranking by major recruiting services and was heralded as the crown jewel of the incoming freshmen class at Villanova. The only issue is that recruiting rankings do not win basketball games, excellent basketball plays do. While certain athletes may crumble under the pressure of grand expectations, Brunson has been an asset for Jay Wright’s team this season.
Brunson’s value has been widely represented in his 13 starts out of Villanova's 14 total games this season. And this comes sort of as a surprise, as Villanova’s roster is filled with talented guards in Ryan Arcidiacono, Phil Booth, and Josh Hart. Brunson was not anointed a starter but he had to outperform other talented players in practice to receive the playing time.
Statistically, Brunson has been a solid contributor this season. He is the 3rd leading scorer for ‘Nova, averaging 11.7 points a game. What also shows Brunson’s poise is his 1.90 assist-to-turnover ratio. Many freshman guards especially in the Big East have historically been exposed by the fierce competition and wilt under pressure. As of now, Brunson has been able to quell rookie mistakes, which has proven him not to be a liability for ‘Nova, despite his young age.
However, there is a lingering issue that could eventually hurt the Wildcats with Brunson’s spectacular play. There have been rumblings that Brunson will enter the NBA draft after the 2016 season and the better he plays the more likely Brunson makes the jump to the NBA.
While Brunson making it to the NBA will boost recruiting for Jay Wright, it will have a negative impact in the 2016-17 season. Ryan Arcidiacono will graduate and there could be up to three starting spots that need to be filled if Brunson leaves for the NBA. Although he may have the talent, it is a worrisome issue.
As stellar as Brunson has played, there are still two facets of his game that can improve. Firstly, it starts with his willing to earn the reputation as a defensive stopper. While many of the guards on Villanova can score, none of the talented guards have stepped up to become a go-to lockdown guy. Being able to contain or stop the opposition's best perimeter player would be advantageous for the Wildcats and Brunson’s draft stock.
Secondly, Brunson needs to improve his three-point shooting. While 33% percent from deep is not terrible, if he wants to be considered one of the elite all-around guards in the nation, Brunson needs to be shooting 40% from three.
If he is able to write these wrongs, the Wildcats will be looking at another year as a high NCAA tournament seed. However, Brunson has the tools and feel for the game to be a college superstar.
Photo: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports
-(1) Villanova defeats (3) Michigan in the National Championship