If the Orlando bubble and playoffs revealed anything about the Dallas Mavericks, it illuminated the lack of playmakers and facilitators outside of Luka Doncic. Thanks to Trey Burke, who signed mere weeks before the plane left for Florida, the Mavericks were able to alleviate some of that concern. However, it was clear Dallas would need another steady floor general to spell Doncic in the upcoming season, and a steady floor general the team should get.
Welcome back, Jalen Brunson.
In his second season, the Villanova product appeared in 57 games and averaged eight points, three assists and one turnover in 18 minutes per game. He connected on 47 percent of his field goals including 36 percent from behind the arc.
Brunson’s season was cut short February 22 when he was slammed into the protective padding under the basket, which tore his labrum in his right shoulder. It was an unfortunate draw for the reserve guard, who registered a 27-point, eight-assist (one turnover) game against the Hawks earlier in the month and was a key contributor with 13 points and 11 assists (two turnovers) in the Mavericks’ colossal upset over the Bucks in December.
Speaking to the media before training camp, Brunson gave the green light on his shoulder saying it was “100 percent”, and he was “ready to go, plain and simple”. While Dallas will be dealing with issues to the depth of the front court, the back court should hit the ground running with Brunson healthy and ready to rock.
The biggest question hovering over Brunson is if he’ll immediately step in to his reserve guard role. Filling in for the injured Brunson, Burke was arguably the Mavericks second or third best player in Orlando, and the Mavericks rewarded him with a three-year deal this offseason. The Mavericks also acquired one of college basketball’s premier shooters in Tyrell Terry who will certainly take time to develop, but also possesses an elite skill many Mavericks don’t. Factor in J.J. Barea’s return and Rick Carlisle has many guards to deploy.
Working in Brunson’s favor is the truncated season, so depth will be of utmost importance. Doncic is certainly to miss games, so Brunson could be thrust into a starting role at a moment’s notice. Even still, Brunson’s minutes per game dropped from 22 minutes his rookie season to 18 minutes per contest in his second year, and he logged 15 minutes or less in 25 of 56 games. Carlisle is finicky, so nothing is guaranteed.
Best Case Scenario
Brunson’s best-case scenario sees him assuming the backup point guard role and forming a formidable one-two punch with Burke off the bench. The two players complement each other stylistically, with Brunson being the methodical guard who approaches the game with precision, and Burke being the explosive combo guard capable of getting a bucket on anyone. “We complement each other pretty well,” Brunson explained on Media day. “We’re playmakers but at the same time we can both score.”
A successful season would also involve Brunson maintaining his efficiency. Last season the guard nailed 43.7 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes and knocked down 50 percent of his attempts from three to 16 feet per Basketball Reference’s shooting data. “I go into every summer thinking what can I do to make myself more consistent and more efficient,” Brunson told the media.
He’s also a more than capable initiator. Last season he ranked in the 72nd percentile as the pick-and-roll ball handler generating .93 points per possession. With so few creators off the bench, Brunson will certainly be relied upon to create good looks for the second unit.
Worst Case Scenario
To be blunt the worst-case scenario for Brunson would be if he were traded. Burke is unquestionably the more explosive guard and has thrived under Carlisle’s tutelage on two separate occasions. While Brunson won’t function as any salary filler, he’s only 24 with a strong pedigree that could be thrown into a deal since the Mavericks lack draft capital. With too many unfulfilling free agencies, the Mavericks best chance at acquiring game-changing talent is likely to come via trade.
While the above scenario is probably not likely, Brunson failing to gain his footing after missing a good chunk of the season would also be a bad scenario. Since his absence the team took the heavily favored Los Angeles Clippers to six games without Porzingis and added depth to the weakest position on the roster. The team is ready to win now and leashes will probably be short for anyone not up to the task.
If his media day interview was any inclination, Brunson is itching to get back. Rather than join the team in Orlando, he opted to stay behind to get ready for the season. “We tried to make sure I was in game shape by the time September hit,” Brunson told the media. “I’ve felt ready to go then, and I’ve felt ready since.”