Surrounding Luka Doncic with the right personnel has been a top priority for the Dallas Mavericks since he joined the organization in 2018. The shooters and complementary big men have done their part in spreading the floor and allowing Doncic to read the defense and do what he does best.
However, a crucial part to Doncic and the Mavericks’ success this season has been Jalen Brunson.
Brunson, who was selected by Dallas with the 33rd overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, has thrived in a role that has largely been overshadowed by Doncic’s presence and while that is warranted considering the Slovenian’s impact on the franchise, this season has solidified his value to the Mavericks.
Past seasons have seen Brunson come off the bench in relief of Doncic in an effort to sustain his effort, yet injuries to the three-time All-Star thrust Brunson into a more prominent role, one that has kept him in the starting lineup even with the return of Doncic. Their impact together in the lineup was on display in Dallas’ 103-94 win over the Atlanta Hawks.
Doncic finished with a triple-double of 18 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists, but he encountered foul trouble and struggled offensively as he missed 11 of his 17 shot attempts. Thankfully, Brunson (who also had five fouls) and Reggie Bullock had excellent shooting nights as both scored 22 points each and combined for 10 3-pointers in a win over last season’s Eastern Conference finalist.
Brunson’s averages of 16.0 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 5.5 assists through 53 games are all career-highs due in part to the 31.7 minutes per game and a usage of 21.6 percent. The numbers, however, were not the primary reason the Mavericks chose him in the same draft as Doncic.
The son of former NBA veteran and former Barangay Ginebra import Rick Brunson was a two-time national champion during his three years at Villanova University. His leadership and ability to produce when his team needed him helped him earn consensus National Player of the Year and First Team All-American honors. It was a bonus for Dallas that Jalen could post up guards and devise other crafty ways to score.
The intangibles were on full display this season as Brunson has had to take over in crucial stretches for the Mavericks, whether that meant making a big shot or making the right play in order to find the best shot for the team. Defensively, there remains work to be done, especially since the 25-year old can be a liability at 6-foot-1. Nevertheless, he remains committed defensively and knows how to atone for when he gets beat.
Having Brunson in lineups with Doncic also allows for them to take turns running point guard duties, with Doncic now having a more versatile role within the Dallas offense. Indirectly, this also puts less strain on Doncic, especially as he has had to deal with ankle, knee, and a host of other injuries this season.
Depending on how things play out after this season, Brunson may not have his career tied to Doncic and in turn, the Mavericks as his services will be in demand in the offseason. Apart from the likes of John Wall, Russell Westbrook, and Kyrie Irving, all of whom will enter free agency depending on whether or not they exercise their player options, Brunson joins a free agent point guard group of Ricky Rubio, Tyus Jones, Rajon Rondo, and Dennis Schroder. The others may be more popular choices, but they carry with them injuries and inconsistencies.
Keeping Brunson should and most likely be a priority for Dallas as apart from him, only Dorian Finney-Smith and Trey Burke are their other notable free agents. Losing Doncic to injury will always be a significant loss, but it is partly offset as long as Brunson suits up.
The fortunes of the Dallas Mavericks largely rest on Luka Doncic’s shoulders, but his value can only go so far if not for the pieces around him. Jalen Brunson has been nothing short of reliable, especially when Doncic is out, but considering the last few days, they’re far more dangerous as complements rather than substitutes.