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Jalen Brunson: the Mavericks veteran disguised as a rookie

The Mavericks second round pick has impressed the team in his limited role.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Toronto Raptors Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

When the Dallas Mavericks drafted Jalen Brunson it came much to the chagrin of their fan base and blog boys. The team lacked wing depth and the early second round had a multitude of defensive wings. It didn’t make sense to acquire a fourth player under 6’4” to us but the Mavericks knew he was the right choice.

After selecting him Dallas said they had Brunson as a mid-first round pick on their board and were thrilled he fell in the second round. Quantifying Brunson’s impact is difficult, but the most tangible display of his value came in his 11th game of the season.

Early in the fourth quarter of the Mavericks third game against Utah. Dallas is trying to come back from a huge deficit and Jalen Brunson is ready to shine.

Brunson gets the ball behind the arc and sees an opening. He leans left and drives to his right, stops at the restricted circle and fakes out the two opposing big men with a pump fake, then lays it in with his left hand as he falls to the floor. Derrick Favors throws the in-bounds pass to Ricky Rubio and Brunson hops off the floor and steals the ball. Favors swats away Brunson’s first layup, but Jalen grabs the rebound and puts it in off the glass before his defender can react. Four points scored in just seconds.

On the next offensive possession Brunson drifts into open space on the left wing behind the arc. Dwight Powell passes out of the double team to Jalen who’s triple barely rustles the net on the way through. He’s scored seven unanswered points in half a minute.

As a rookie point guard, it’s difficult to impress Rick Carlisle, but this year Jalen Brunson has fallen in favor with his head coach.

“He’s always ready which is the thing I love most about him,” Carlisle said about Brunson. “The other night he was ready, came in and was a real difference maker; he came in and played a seven or eight minute stretch in the game against (Boston); that’s a really high level team.”

Staying ready and embracing his life in the NBA is something Brunson has prepared for since middle school, with his father Rick Brunson.

NBA: Utah Jazz at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

“It started with my parents, just being around the game from such a young age. I remember training with him from sixth and seventh grade,” Brunson said of his father, who played in the NBA for nine seasons.

“He didn’t train me to play high school basketball, he didn’t train me to play college basketball, he trained me to play pro basketball. I think I have a little bit of an advantage when it comes to that.”

Getting an NBA education as a kid from a pro who happens to be your dad explains a bit why the 22-year-old rookie composes himself like a 10-year NBA veteran. This season Brunson is averaging 4.4 points and 1.4 assists in his 13 minutes a game. His playing time varies from game to game, and seeing the kind of tear Devin Harris is on lately, it’s not likely Brunson will see a big increase in his minutes soon.

Still, he knows his time will come if he stays prepared, like it did in his only start against Toronto. Dennis Smith Jr. went down with an ankle injury, and with Devin Harris injured as well, Brunson played 30 minutes against the Raptors.

In his limited minutes Brunson has managed to impress his fellow bench players with his demeanor and composure at such a young age.

“Coming in he’s had a lot of college experience and comes from an NBA family he stays ready,” Devin Harris said. “He knows what he’s capable of doing, he knows how to be effective on the floor and knows his strengths.”

J.J. Barea also had high praise for the Mavericks rookie point guard. The eagerness Brunson shows to learn from veterans like himself and Devin Harris stands out to Barea.

“Oh he’s great, a total pro. You can see he’s taking it all in and when you need him he’s ready to go,” Barea said. “He really knows the game. I think he’s really good and he’s going to be in this league for a long time.”

Utah Jazz v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

With a combined 26 years of NBA experience, Barea and Harris are the perfect two point guards from whom Brunson can learn how to be an effective bench player.

Maturity and poise endeared Jalen Brunson to the Mavericks front office during the draft process. It’s also endearing him to his teammates, specifically his bench roll man Dwight Powell.

“He came in ready to learn and he did so spending time with our guards, more experienced guys and picking up things from them,” Powell said about Brunson.

Learning from the veterans is important to the future success of any NBA rookie. Studying the ins and outs of how Rick Carlisle’s system works under Devin Harris and J.J. Barea will pay big dividends for Brunson with the Mavericks going forward.

Before Dallas called Harris and wanted to bring him back, Devin seriously considered retirement. At age 35, it’s easy to assume Devin will be coaching instead of playing in the very near future. Dallas drafted Brunson to fill that role whenever Harris finally does decide to hang it up.

Brunson will have to bring his own flair to that role and do so with confidence, something the rookie has in spades. He started on two national championship teams and won the collegiate player of the year award in his final season. Dwight Powell knows this kid has confidence.

“He plays unafraid, he knows what he’s good at and he plays to his strengths,” Powell said. “I think the most important thing for young players to do in this league is to figure out what it is you can do to be effective in this league and hone in and focus on that.”

Jalen Brunson is living up to the expectations the Mavericks had when they drafted him because he’s had NBA expectations his entire life. All that time spent training with dad is reaping rewards, just like he always knew it would.