May 14, 2024; Chicago, IL, USA; Bronny James talks to the media during the 2024 NBA Draft Combine at Wintrust Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports May 14, 2024; Chicago, IL, USA; Bronny James talks to the media during the 2024 NBA Draft Combine at Wintrust Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Ask the average sports fan — hell, ask the average basketball fan — to name a prospect in the 2024 NBA Draft and the results will be telling.

Perhaps they know that the projected No. 1 pick is another big man France with a name that’s easier to pronounce (and spell) than Wembanyama.

Maybe they’ll be familiar with Donovan Clingan following his role in UConn winning the last two national championships.

Most likely, they’ll be aware of Zach Edey, although they’ll likely also know that the 7-foot-4 Purdue star projects as a late first-round pick.

But without fail, they’ll be aware of Bronny James.

How could you not be?

Aside from the fact that he shares a name with his famous father, LeBron James’ oldest son has been mentioned as a future NBA Draft prospect for nearly half of his life. And as far back as 2018 — when the now-19-year-old James was just 13-years-old — his father has been publicly speculating about the possibility of them becoming the NBA’s first father-son duo.

“You want to ask me what would be the greatest achievement of my life? If I was on the court at the same time as my son in the NBA,” James told ESPN’s top broadcast team in a pre-production meeting before the 2018 NBA Finals. “That would be No. 1 in my lifetime as an NBA player.”

For years, the idea of LeBron and Bronny teaming up seemed like something people would speculate about as a key piece to the puzzle of a predicting how the final seasons of the older James’ NBA career would play out. Complicating matters, however, was the reality that while the younger James developed into a promising prospect coming out of high school, there hasn’t been much to indicate — beyond his name — that he’s ready for the NBA.

Yet despite Bronny largely projecting to be a late-second-round pick — if he’s drafted at all — he decided to declare for the draft following his underwhelming freshman season at USC. What’s more is that even though he’s fringe second-round pick, he remains in the biggest star in this year’s draft — in part because of his name and in part because the rest of this year’s class is that underwhelming.

That much was evident in the way his appearance at this week’s NBA Draft Combine was covered.

Unlike its NFL counterpart, the NBA’s combine is typically a blip on the radar — an apparent excuse for team executives, player agents and media members to come together and gossip about the upcoming offseason with the players’ performances coming secondary. That, however, wasn’t the case this week, with James’ appearance receiving the full sports media spectacle treatment, with daily reports regarding his performance and how it might affect his draft stock.

What’s more — James appeared to play pretty well! Granted, I can’t say I’m much of a historian when it comes to the NBA Draft Combine. But despite measuring at 6-foot-1 without shoes after being listed at 6-foot-4 at USC, the former four-star prospect appeared to improve his draft stock with a strong performance in shooting drills (one of his perceived weaknesses) and by scoring a team-high 13 points and being named the Player of the Game in a scrimmage (again, who knew they kept such stats?)

As silly as it might sound, James’ combine performance was important for this draft.

Had he not stood out — or even performed poorly — it would have been tough for team to justify drafting him, at least from a pure basketball perspective. Simply put, there isn’t a lot of precedent for a player with his size and lack of production at the college level to be drafted, especially if that player wasn’t previously a top level high school recruit.

In many years, a strong showing at the combine might not have mattered this much. But in a draft class that’s largely considered the weakest in recent NBA history, it all but solidified Bronny James’ status as a future draft pick.

That’s fairly notable, as it completely shifts the way that he’ll be covered in the time between now and the start of the two-day draft on June 26. Had James not performed well, the conversation would have shifted to whether he’s worth at a draft pick at all and the perceived role nepotism might play in his potential selection. Instead, we seemingly now have permission to talk about him like an actual NBA prospect (even if his most likely destination during his rookie season is the G League).

For the NBA, that’s critical considering the lack of star power elsewhere in this year’s draft.

Surely, we’ll all learn more about projected top prospects such as Alex Sarr, Nikola Topic, Rob Dillingham and Reed Sheppard as the draft approaches. But it’s unlikely any of them will usurp Bronny James as the biggest name in this year’s class — as has been the expectation for the past six years.

About Ben Axelrod

Ben Axelrod is a veteran of the sports media landscape, having most recently worked for NBC's Cleveland affiliate, WKYC. Prior to his time in Cleveland, he covered Ohio State football and the Big Ten for outlets including Cox Media Group, Bleacher Report, Scout and Rivals.