When he was playing with the Mavericks and a championship was a legitimate goal, Jason Kidd had an assortment of backcourt mates.
Bigger ones, like DeShawn Stevenson and Corey Brewer.
Smaller ones, like Jason Terry and J.J. Barea.
As it developed, pairing with smaller guards was when the Mavericks were most effective.
What Kidd learned was, at 6-4, he could run the team offensively and was big enough to help the smaller guards on the defensive end if the situation required it.
A decade later, Kidd sees a similar process evolving for this new generation of Mavericks.
Luka Dončić is already established as a superstar in the NBA. And he has the luxury of being a 6-7 point guard.
That means working in the backcourt with a smaller guard – ostensibly a shooting guard, but really in name only – is a sensible strategy for Kidd in his first season coaching the Mavericks.
Enter Jalen Brunson.
In the past, Brunson has usually backed up Dončić, although the two did play together occasionally.
Now, however, it’s clear that the Mavericks are very good when the 2018 draftees are on the court together. It’s a chemistry that has developed quickly, but also must continue to be cultivated.
“He’s learning how to play with J.B.,” Kidd said of Dončić. “You can see he’s not afraid to give J.B. the ball. There’s a good trust, good relationship between those two.
“J.B. is playing at a very high level. When you have that dynamic, I think it makes our team that much better.”
Brunson’s work with Dončić is such that either one of them can bring the ball up the court. And that’s a welcomed break for Luka. And Brunson’s slithery moves to the basket are a nice offset to the more physical style Dončić plays.
And it’s clear to anybody who has been watching that the pair has a symbiotic relationship.
“I guess it kind of starts with our relationship off the court,” Brunson said of his partnership with Dončić, which clearly is going to be the closing backcourt when games are tight. “We got here the same year, so we’ve known each other the past four years. He trusts me, that’s really it. I can’t take that trust for granted. It gives me confidence.”
And for Dončić, knowing he has another playmaker on the court is every bit as important as knowing that he has shooters surrounding him when the defense gangs up on him, which remains a strategy for opponents.
And the Dončić-Brunson tandem seems to get better with Tim Hardaway Jr. on the floor as the small forward. The more defensive attention that goes to the guards, the more room for Hardaway to get to his sweet spots.
So, what it boils down to is that it really won’t matter if Brunson is starting or coming off the bench.
So far, he’s only started twice.
But he’s finished games with Dončić when they have been hanging in the balance.
Players like Brunson understand that finishing games is a bigger responsibility than starting them.
And the way things are going, it appears Brunson and Dončić are going to be in finishing school a lot this season.