Jalen Brunson’s emergence within the Mavericks rotation was no surprise, but his effectiveness in that role was.
In 68 games played, he averaged a career-high 12.6 points and 3.5 assists per game. He found his role as a downhill playmaker who could score on three levels and alleviate pressure from Luka Doncic when necessary.
Brunson’s offensive development stemmed from his improvement around the rim. As a small guard, he utilized his change of pace to keep defenders off-balance. He protected the ball with his body, and once he got to the basket, he used various angles to finish over bigger defenders. The result was a season that saw him shoot 80 percent from inside three feet.
Brunson’s career year garnered him Sixth Man of the Year votes, where he was a near-finalist for the award. And with a healthy offseason ahead of him, the hope is that Brunson enters the 2021-22 training camp even better.
“Whatever the team needs me to do, that is kinda how I operated,” Brunson said. “I just focus on what I can do to help this team. What can I do to help bring wins to this team.”
The 24-year old guard’s emergence as a scorer proved vital for a Mavericks team devoid of many offensive creators outside of Doncic. He also had the opportunity to gain some playoff experience, making his postseason debut against the Los Angeles Clippers this season.
Arguably his best game of the year came against the Chicago Bulls in an early-season bout. He scored 31 points and dished out seven assists. Doncic was unavailable due to rest, and Brunson took it upon himself to guide the Mavericks’ offense. It resulted in a loss, but there was a level of composure with Brunson that hadn’t been seen since his days at Villanova. He was never in a rush. The spots he needed to get were always available to him. And overall, he displayed a comfort with the NBA game that gave fans a glimpse of what he can be at his peak.
Playmaking has always been the question for Brunson. This season didn’t feature a substantial rise in his ability to get others involved. Throughout the season, Brunson’s assist percentage dropped to 21.3 percent. That mark is six percentage points worse than where it was during the 2019-20 NBA season.
Inability to constantly involve teammates within the offense pigeonholes Brunson into a score-only role. And though that has its upside, that role also has a ceiling. Heading into the 2020-21 season, a more active playmaking Brunson can take his game to another level.
“Everything,” Brunson said on what he can improve on. “Consistency is key. Working on my game as a whole, working on my body, just being ready to go.”
In the last four games against the Clippers in the NBA Playoffs, Brunson struggled to find his footing offensively. He didn’t score over seven points, nor did he shoot above 40 percent, during the final four games of the Mavericks’ season.
His lack of production caused former head coach Rick Carlisle to cut his minutes. And by Game 7, Brunson only managed 10 minutes on the floor and three shots.
The playoffs weren’t pretty. However, the Clippers are a team he is known to struggle against. Their length often affected him. And in a seven-game series, they managed to negate his production entirely.
“It’s going to be on my mind all summer,” Brunson said. “I know what I can do to make myself a better player. Learning from my mistake. And learning from what I didn’t do well at. I can learn from this and move forward.”
His future in Dallas:
Brunson now enters the final year of a four-year $6.1 million contract. In this final season, he is on the books for $1.8 million. When looking at his production value in contrast to his contract, he is a clear steal in the NBA market.
However, after this season, he is due for a substantial payday. If he puts together two career years, teams will line up for his services. And to keep him on the roster, Dallas will have to pay him what he’s worth.
Whether the Mavericks are willing to pay top dollar to keep Brunson on the roster is unknown. But as his unrestricted free agency looms (next offseason), it’s a decision that has to be made relatively quickly.
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Feature image via Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports.