It’s a certainty that Jalen Brunson would be a full-time starting point guard for a lot of NBA teams.
The Mavericks aren’t a lot of NBA teams.
Luka Dončić is their starter at the point and figures to be so for years to come.
So where does that leave Brunson?
In a very good spot, as it turns out.
Brunson has been averaging about 30 minutes per game over the last eight games.
During that time, he’s averaged 16.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4 assists. He’s shot 57 percent from the field, 39 percent from 3-point range.
The Mavericks are 6-2 in that span, including the five-game winning streak they will try to extend Wednesday night in Houston.
The two losses in that stretch were games when Brunson needed to start at point guard with Dončić sidelined.
Most of the time, Brunson has anchored the Mavericks’ bench corps with Tim Hardaway Jr.
That’s a role that fits both him and the team – at least for now. Brunson and Dončić have devised ways to play off of each other that have given the Mavericks another dimension.
“We give these guys a lot of latitude and freedom to be creative,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “A lot of that stuff organically takes care of itself. We’re going to give you guys a lot of responsibility, a lot of space, to be creative and figure out different ways to play together so we can play as randomly as possible, because that’s the hardest kind of stuff to guard.
“Jalen’s got a good feel for that. Luka’s obviously a master at that. With Jalen and Tim Hardaway coming off the bench, we basically have seven starters, which is a good situation for us.”
Brunson is the consummate team player. He would put his ultimate effort into any role he was asked to do.
But this increased playing time and duty to be on the floor during clutch situations is working wonders for him and the team.
“Coach gives us some freedom to make plays,” the 6-1 guard said. “It’s pretty fun having a guy like that (Luka) on the other wing that’s probably not going to be helped off of (defensively). So there’s definitely going to be space.
“And when he has the ball, I just try to get in his vision and try to give him an outlet. He’s going to draw so much attention, that I know I can get to certain spots on the floor and be ready to shoot or make a secondary play.”
At 24, Brunson is in his third NBA season and he’s clearly got a bright future.
The present doesn’t look too shabby, either.
Staying grounded: The Mavericks are 19-7 since Feb. 5. That has vaulted them solidly into the playoff picture, but they still feel like they are trying to make up for all the ground they lost in the first six weeks of the season.
When you start out 9-14, it’s a long climb back.
That said, they have been playing a better brand of basketball for two months, not that Carlisle wants to hear all of that. After Monday’s win over Utah, he said everybody in the locker room “would tell you we haven’t done anything yet.”
He reiterated that Tuesday.
“The statement ‘feeling pretty good, things are going well,’ that’s always an indicator to me that you got to keep your guard up,” he said. “So my focus is, what’s next? We’ve got to keep our guard up heading to Houston.
“You can never let up and you can certainly never take anything for granted.”
That mindset has filtered throughout the organization.
“We can’t stop here,” Brunson said. “We got to keep going, keep stringing wins together and keep playing the defense we’ve been playing and things will work out for us.”
Porzingis set to return: Kristaps Porzingis missed Monday’s game to rest a sprained right wrist, but Carlisle said he’s optimistic that the forward-center will return Wednesday in Houston.
“He’s doing better today,” Carlisle said. “He’s going to travel and I believe he’s going to play (Wednesday).”
Houston is the first night of a back-to-back with the Mavericks returning Thursday to play Milwaukee. It remains to be seen whether Porzingis will be cleared to play both ends of the two-game set.
Efficiency improving for POW Luka: Dončić, fresh off his third NBA player of the week award, continues to put up amazing numbers and he’s doing so in a more efficient manner this season.
For instance, his accuracy on step-back shots, for instance, has risen several percentage points over last season.
Carlisle peeled back the curtain a bit to enlighten folks how that has happened.
“I think it’s work,” Carlisle said. “He’s put the work into it, put a lot of time in the weight room with functional weight training and normal strength training. His conditioning has gotten better and better as the season has gone along. We’ve done a pretty good job of spacing his rest games. All those are factors.
“But it comes down to the fact that he’s put the work in. He’s spent the time on it. And I did see that stat. It’s like four or five percent better than last year. You don’t have that kind of improvement if you’re not putting the work in.”
By the way, the point guard joined Dirk Nowitzki, Michael Finley and Jason Kidd as the only Mavericks to win the player of the week honor three times in their careers.