When the Dallas Mavericks signed Nicolas Brussino to a partially guaranteed three-year deal back in July, people were not really interested in the move. Heck, most of the fanbase probably didn’t know who this kid was until about halfway through the season. The lack of interest was due to the Mavs coming off yet another failed attempt to lure a “big fish” in free agency, when both Hassan Whiteside and Mike Conley decided to stay with their respective teams instead of coming to Dallas.
Whether or not Brussino panned out or not, his upside was very clear. He was only 23 years old (now 24), 6’8” tall with nice handles, and he had a smooth stroke to his jump shot. Although he arrived in Dallas a raw prospect, Brussino got more opportunities to show what he could do after the team shipped off Deron Williams and Andrew Bogut midway through the season.
Brussino appeared in 54 games for the Mavs this season. In a little under 10 minutes per game, he averaged 2.8 points, 1.7 rebounds and 0.9 steals for the year. What impressed me the most though, were the two games in which Nico started. Although it was a small sample size, Brussino averaged 14 points, 7 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game while playing just under 35 minutes per night in those games.
The jump in stats was nice to see, but what really stood out were the little things that stats don’t fully capture. Brussino’s high basketball I.Q., natural instincts on both sides of the court, and ability to handle the ball, makes him able to play the point-forward position. At 6’8”, Nico could be a matchup nightmare for opposing bench lineups if he can become more consistent running the point.
My favorite Brussino moment of the season was when he scored 11 huge points and grabbed nine rebounds in a 112-107 win against the Washington Wizards on the road. This was the game that showed me how far Brussino had come since training camp, as Dirk Nowitzki trusted the young guy to get the job done.
Given how Brussino played in the second half of this season, Dallas has to be thrilled knowing that they might have found yet another diamond in the rough. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not out here saying that he’s going to be some kind of star, but I do believe Brussino is going to be a very productive rotation player for the Mavs if he can continue to add to his game and become more comfortable in Rick Carlisle’s system.
Dallas has given out quite a few three-year, partially guaranteed contracts over the last few years, in hopes that they might stumble upon a player like Brussino (Dorian Finney-Smith is another young player who has shown some quality role player potential and taken advantage of this opportunity). Most of those situations didn’t pan out (Jonathan Gibson, John Jenkins, Jarrid Famous, Maurice Ndour, etc), but if Brussino hadn’t shown any promise, the Mavs could’ve let him go with little to no financial strain, just like the others. However, now the Mavs seem to have a good young player who can be on the roster for two more years at minimum salary.
The thing I like most about this contract is that Brussino should be more than motivated to continue to improve and expand his game. We always talk about guys playing better during a “contract year.” Well, on a three-year, partially guaranteed deal, every year is a “contract year,” and I think we’ll be happy with what we see next season when it comes to Brussino’s improvements.
There are a lot of moving parts for the Mavs roster going into this offseason. If the roster were to stay exactly as it is now, I would say backing up Wesley Matthews or Harrison Barnes would be the best spot for Brussino. He’s versatile enough to play the point guard spot, too, but right now Dallas has no shortage of guards, so I don’t see him getting a ton of time there unless the roster undergoes some drastic changes.
The NBA Draft, free agency, and potential trades are all factors that could derail the Brussino love-fest in a hurry. I loved watching Nico this year, and I think he’s got a bright future in this league. That being said, my feelings wouldn’t be hurt at all if the Mavs roster is so talented after this summer that Brussino has a hard time finding any playing time.
We won’t worry about all of that right now, though. Right now, the focus is for the Mavs to further develop Brussino through the offseason, as if they're planning on him being a key contributor going forward. The NBA Summer League in July will be our next chance to see Brussino in action, but you can bet that the training for next season will have started well before then.