As much attention as Luka Doncic has received for his stellar play as the Dallas Mavericks completed their best regular season in 11 years, Jalen Brunson, who was also selected in that 2018 NBA Draft with Doncic, has been just as important in what has been a breakout year.
Playing in 79 of the Mavs’ 82 games, Brunson averaged 16.3 points, 3.9 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game. All of those averages were career highs. Brunson also shot 50.2 percent from the field, 37.3 percent from deep and 84 percent from the free-throw line. His field-goal percentage was the highest in the league among all other guards (min. 750 attempts).
Jalen Brunson fights through Giannis Antetokounmpo’s tough defense.
Brunson embraces Spencer Dinwiddie.
Maxi Kleber and Jalen Brunson.
After coming off the bench for most of his young career, coach Jason Kidd officially made the decision to move Brunson up to the starting lineup permanently in January when Doncic returned from a long absence (ankle injury and COVID-19 protocols). The Mavs had to navigate through a tough COVID-19 outbreak that left them severely shorthanded for multiple games, but Dallas was able to stay afloat and build long-lasting chemistry thanks to Brunson’s play during that stretch.
“That’s when it really clicked,” Brunson told SLAM Magazine in an exclusive interview. “I had some good games in the beginning of the year, but I think that stretch kind of solidified how people view me a little bit. My coaches know, my teammates know, and that’s all I really care about, [but] I guess people started to see and take notice. Thank you for noticing, but I’m doing this for myself, my team.”
In 10 games from Dec. 12 to New Year’s Eve, Brunson averaged 21 points, 3.5 rebounds and 7.4 assists per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the field. He posted a career-high 21 20-point games in his fourth season after posting just 17 in the previous three years combined.
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“I don’t think about [how] I’m averaging career-highs,” said Brunson. “I know people always say it, like, ‘How’s it feel?’ I’m just trying to be me, I’m not trying to blow anything out of proportion. Obviously, what I’m doing is good stuff, but the best thing about it is I know I could be doing better. That’s the part that keeps me hungry.”
Brunson surveys the Wizards defense.
Doncic hits a one-legged fadeaway vs. Utah.
Doncic giving two thumbs up.
As the Mavs prepare to take on the Utah Jazz in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series without Doncic (due to a calf strain), Brunson is finding extra motivation from his subpar performances against the Los Angeles Clippers in last year’s postseason.
“I haven’t moved past it,” said Brunson. “I still think about it, in a good way. I’ve always done well with a little bit of adversity. … You’ve got to be consistent with what you’re putting out there on the court, but most importantly, keep your routine, keep having the same mentality [and] doing the things that you do that have gotten you here.
“Don’t just say, ‘I’m here, now I can take a chill pill.’ Like, no… Keep pushing yourself. That’s how I want to continue.”
Heading into an offseason as an unrestricted free agent, Brunson has already made himself a lot of money, whether he re-signs with the Mavs or goes to another team. However, he’ll have the opportunity to raise his market value even more on the biggest and brightest stage on Saturday afternoon.