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Jalen Brunson took a leap forward this season

The Mavericks needed another playmaker, and Brunson stepped up.

2022 NBA Playoffs - Golden State Warriors v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

Season in review

Jalen Brunson went into this season with a lot to prove. Fortunately for the Dallas Mavericks, he delivered. At the start of this year, all everyone could talk about was the Mavericks’ need for a secondary playmaker, someone who could generate offense when Luka Doncic was off the floor. A lot of names were thrown around. None of them were needed, though.

Brunson posted career highs in points, rebounds, assists, and steals, putting up a line of 16.3/3.9/4.8. He shot 37% on 3-pointers while posting a career high number of attempts per game at 3.2. His free throw rate was down a bit, to .211 from a career best .241 the season before, but he did increase his number of free throws per game to 2.7.

Beyond the numbers, though, Brunson’s play allowed the Mavericks to run the offense through him when Luka sat or just needed a couple possessions off while on the floor. Dallas doesn’t have a lot of players who can create off the dribble, so Brunson’s ability to put the ball on the floor and get a basket or manufacture a shot for his teammates is huge.

Brunson also became a legitimate midrange threat, upping his attempts from 102 in 2020-21 to 237 in 2021-22. He shot 47% on those midrange shots, seven points higher than league average. It was a great weapon to have in his bag, as his size sometimes limits his ability to finish at the rim. Brunson being able to stop fifteen feet from the basket and hit pull-up jumpers reliably makes him a bigger scoring threat than he otherwise would be.

His best season as a pro couldn’t have happened at a better time, for the Mavericks or for Brunson. He was a crucial part of a squad that advanced further than any Mavericks team in a decade, and doing it in a contract year guaranteed he’s going to get paid. At the beginning of the season I said it was time for Brunson to take a leap. He did just that, and more.

Best game

It’s easy to pick Brunson’s best game in 2021-22. He saved the Mavericks’ season in Game 2 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Utah Jazz. With Dallas down in the series 1-0, Brunson went nuclear and kept the Mavericks in the series.

Brunson scored 41 points, his career high for the regular season or playoffs. And he wasn’t just chucking, either. Brunson shot 15-of-25 from the field, including 6-of-10 on 3-pointers. He also dished out five assists and grabbed eight rebounds. Those numbers alone would make it his best game of the season. But the fact that it came in a huge playoff game for the Mavericks makes it even better.

Contract status

Brunson is an unrestricted free agent, thanks to creative and erroneous contract management by the previous Dallas front office. The Mavericks signed Brunson to a rookie contract that did not include a team option in the fourth year, which makes him unrestricted, presumably to save cap space for yet another failed attempt at luring a big fish to a small pond roster flexibility.

Looking ahead

If Brunson returns, he’ll continue to play the same role he did this season, serving as a secondary playmaker to Doncic and running the offense when Luka sits. Increasing his 3-point shot volume should be the goal for next year. Again, that’s if he comes back to Dallas.

The Mavericks feel like they have a good chance to retain Brunson, though the cost will be high, much higher than the $55 million extension he could have signed during the season. “He’s shown that he deserves to be paid,” Jason Kidd told ESPN earlier this year. “He does his job at a very high level, and he’s a winner.”

Grade: A

There wasn’t much more you could ask from Brunson in his fourth season. He played his role perfectly and even played above expectations in the first round of the playoffs. The only concern is his defense, which you can assume will improve with more experience.