The Kristaps Porzingis trade was thought of as temporary step back to take a step forward later. Any hope of preventing the step back has been rooted in the belief that Luka Doncic’ can thrive even more running a historic usage rate in a heliocentric offense. Luka is already running the 9th highest usage rate in NBA history this season with a 37.1 percent usage rate. That includes an eye popping 47.3 percent usage rate since the Porzingis trade was announced.
That is not sustainable. The record for usage rate for a single season is 41.7 percent by Russell Westbrook in his MVP season. James Harden is the only other person to have a usage rate above 40 percent, and that was in 2018-19. But Luka is not the only person to benefit from a clarified role and extra usage since the trade.
Porzingis played his last game in Dallas on January 29th against the Indiana Pacers. The Mavericks have played 9 games since then. They played 50 games before that. Of those 50 games, Jalen Brunson played 49. In those 49 games, Brunson averaged 15.7 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.6 assists on 50.1 percent shooting from the field and 34.0 percent shooting from three. Perhaps more importantly, he only took 2.9 three point attempts per game. He did all of this in 31.3 minutes per game with a +2.4 plus/minus.
In the 9 games since, Brunson has upped his minutes to 36.1 minutes per game which is star territory. He has averaged 19.1 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.2 assists. He has shot 51.2 percent from the field and 48.7 percent from three and taken 4.3 threes per game. His plus minus has nearly doubled to +4.6 per game.
Brunson’s usage and subsequently his game has changed without Porzingis. Brunson is still a secondary playmaker, attacking defenses that Luka has already bent to his will. But his primary usage now is as the second scoring option next to Luka. The most important development for that role is the improvement in his jumper.
Generally speaking, increases in volume result in decreases in efficiency. Brunson has been able to greatly improve his efficiency while raising his attempts by more than 50 percent per game. The result has been a vast improvement in scoring and scoring consistency. Brunson has scored 19 or more points in seven of the nine games since Porzingis last played. He had done so in 13 of the previous 49 games he played. Five of the previous 13 also happened with Porzingis not playing.
What does this mean going forward? Jalen Brunson is going to get paid. Brunson is different from the majority of undersized scoring guards due to the efficiency with which he scores. His improved shooting has only increased that efficiency. Brunson has a true shooting percentage of 62.4 percent since Porzingis last played. Brunson has taken 3.6 catch and shoot threes during this time and made them at an astonishing 56.3 percent. Prior to these games he had taken only 1.9 per game. Brunson shot only 27.4 percent from three while sharing the floor with Porzingis this season. He has shot 42.4 percent from three without Porzingis.
The game versus the Miami Heat was a perfect example of the recalibration of Brunson’s game. In his first 49 games, Brunson was 13 for 33 on corner threes. In the last 9 games, Brunson is 14 for 22. The plays above show why he is both taking and making more of these looks. Spencer Dinwiddie came over in the trade and Josh Green has been starting. Both of these players are pass first players. Porzingis was clearly a score first player. Porzingis would likely have shot the ball in the situation where Dinwiddie and Green passed to Brunson. And of course Luka is the best creator of corner threes in the NBA. Brunson now has the opportunity to get corner threes assisted by all three.
The Mavericks have been looking for a sidekick for Luka since he arrived. They have also looked for the right shooting guard to play with Luka. The perfect person to handle both roles has been here all along. He simply had to be given the chance and put in the right role. The Porzingis trade put him in that role and the Mavericks have been reaping the benefits.