Jalen Brunson understandably doesn’t much care for any comparison to Luka Doncic.
It’s completely unfair for anybody to be measured against an All-Star starter who averages close to a triple double.
But Brunson has found that being Luka Light is a lot easier if you break it down to its simplest terms.
“To me,” he said, “the best Luka impression is to find ways to win the game.”
The second-year point guard has had to fill in for Doncic during two stretches this season. The first four games in December resulted in a 2-2 record against four teams that are all contenders to win the Eastern Conference: Toronto, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Boston.
In those four games, Brunson averaged 13.8 points, 9.5 assists and 4.5 rebounds. It may not rival Doncic’s numbers, but it’s the kind of production any team in the NBA would want out of their backup point guard.
In two games during the past week as a starter for Doncic, who remains sidelined with a sprained right ankle, Brunson has averaged 18 points, 5.5 assists and 4.0 rebounds.
Clearly, he’s responded when needed.
“He’s doing an amazing job creating his own shot, and helping other people to get their shots,” Maxi Kleber said. “It’s tougher for sure as a point guard. You’re basically the coach on the court. You call the plays, you got to see mismatches and see what play works for us.
“But he’s a very smart guy. He’s won championships in his life. You rarely see him get rattled. He makes good decisions.”
An even keel is Brunson’s calling card. He doesn’t get flustered on the court and that helps him keep the Mavericks steady. His coach, Rick Carlisle, is the same way on the sidelines – most of the time.
Brunson does things his own way. But his ability to score, distribute the ball and grab a rebound when the opportunity presents itself makes him a perfect fit as the backup to Doncic. And occasionally, they’ll get to play together.
But not often.
“That’s a tough act to follow,” Brunson said of Doncic. “Obviously he brings a different dimension to this team. My job is to come in and try to make plays for others, but at the same time make plays for myself – and make winning plays.”
Brunson was the 33rd pick of the 2018 draft. Most experts believe if teams had a mulligan in that draft, Brunson would be a lottery pick, or very close to it.
He still harbors a bit of resentment to the multitude of teams that passed over him in the 2018 draft. But he knows the way the business works. And he’s a big fan of fate, which has been good to him.
Asked if he holds it against the teams that bypassed him in the draft, the 6-1 Brunson said: “Deep down inside, maybe. But I’m happy where I’m at. Things have worked out well.”
Brunson will be going against a much higher draftee on Wednesday at American Airlines Center when Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies visit. Morant was the No. 2 pick behind Zion Williamson in the 2019 draft.
“He’s a dynamic playmaker,” Brunson says of Morant. “And he was the No. 2 pick for a reason. He’s a really good player. People are still trying to figure out how to guard him.”
To varying degrees, you can say that about most NBA players. Brunson brings his own set of problems for defenses. He is strong and he can make shots inside and outside.
Plus, he’s always looking to involve his teammates.
“It’s a little bit of instincts,” he said. “You’re always looking to be aggressive, but once you see an opening for a teammate, you have to execute and make a play for them.”
Spoken like a true Luka Light.
Injury update: After going out against Indiana in the second quarter, there were concerns that J.J. Barea might be sidelined for a while.
But he said after the 112-103 win over the Pacers that the sprained left ankle he suffered was not serious.
“Just being safe,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Mavericks found out that the injury to Seth Curry (left knee tightness) is not considered serious, Carlisle said.
In addition, Carlisle said the timeline for Doncic (sprained right ankle) has not changed. He’s still out until at least Feb. 10, meaning he will miss at least six games. There would only be two games remaining before the All-Star break at that point.
“Luka’s doing better every day,” Carlisle said. “He’s not going to be back any sooner than we said, but he is improving. And Seth Curry’s situation is not serious. We want those guys to heal the right way. In the meantime, we got to hold the fort down.”