When Jalen Brunson went down in Atlanta last February with a shoulder injury that required surgery, that event would give him a greater appreciation of what he does for a living.
He just had no way of knowing it at the time.
When he was asked about the inconvenience of all the health-related things that players have to go through this season with COVID-19, he couldn’t help but chuckle.
“Anything we have to do,” Brunson said, “I’m OK with it – as long as I can play. It may seem inconvenient at the moment, but it’s worth it.”
That’s the value of perspective speaking there. Morning tests, confinement to hotels on the road, none of that really gets under Brunson’s skin. When you had to sit out more than eight months with an injury, you’re thankful for what you have.
And Brunson has earned plenty. The third-year guard has come a long way since he was the 33rd pick of the 2018 draft. Brunson was there for the last season of Dirk Nowitzki’s and the first season of Luka Dončić.
He quickly established himself as an impactful NBA player and now coach Rick Carlisle is asking Brunson to be the lead horse of the second-team stable.
“I expect him to be an anchor for that second unit,” Carlisle said before Thursday’s win over Minnesota. “I haven’t seen any problems with him (physically) and he’s hit the floor a couple times, too.”
Carlisle also said that Dwight Powell, also coming off an injury (torn Achilles) that ended his season early last year, has appeared to have no complications in training camp, either.
Brunson was not with the team in the NBA restart bubble. He was doing rehab for his shoulder surgery. But his return to action during the preseason has been encouraging.
He has played solidly in the preseason, despite an off-shooting night Thursday in the loss to the Timberwolves. He averaged 8.7 points and hit 3-of-7 3-pointers during the exhibition games.
And, more importantly, he’s happy with what he’s seen so far out of the second unit that he will be a major part of – at least to start the season. And he seems no problem with the way the second unit is being used.
During the preseason, several reserves – Brunson, Maxi Kleber, Trey Burke, James Johnson, Josh Green – all came into the game at the same time. That doesn’t mean it will always be like that in the regular season. But it is a good indication that Carlisle is happy with the connection that group has.
“Coach is going to put us in positions to be successful,” Brunson said. “It (mass substitutions) worked out the first two games. Obviously, it’s preseason.
“I like the chemistry that second group has together. Trey and me, Maxi, J.J., Willie (Cauley-Stein), Josh Green, it’s pretty special. We play together in practice a lot, but to go out and play the way we did (in preseason) showed that this group can be special. I’m very excited with what we have.”
Not much change: Carlisle said that he’s not expecting a major change in the logistics at American Airlines Center.
The one obvious change on Thursday was that the Mavericks’ bench was moved to the opposite end of the court from where it’s been for the last 18 years. That was done, most likely, to alleviate teams having to walk past each other when they go to the locker room at halftime and at the end of the game.
The bench the Mavericks used to have was to the right of the scoring table. Now they are to the left of it, which is closer to their locker room.
Briefly: The Mavericks had one significant hiccup defensively at the end of the third quarter when Rondae Hollis-Jefferson got loose for an easy bucket before the buzzer on an inbounds play. Overall, the defense slipped a tick on this night compared to the first two games . . . The Mavericks finished the preseason shooting 58-for-132 (.439) from 3-point range in the three games . . . The Mavericks will have several days to work out any final kinks before the regular season begins Wednesday at Phoenix.