DALLAS – In order to gauge the importance of rookie point guard Jalen Brunson to the Dallas Mavericks, it understandably can’t be done just by looking at it from a statistical standpoint.
Brunson is 10th on the Mavs in scoring (4.8 points per game) and seventh in assists (1.3 assists per game). But his value to the Mavs is measured by much more than that.
As one of the team’s top reserves, Brunson is one of the stabilizers of the Mavs’ second unit. Part of his job is to be the general on the court and to provide whatever is necessary to continue the Mavs’ success that night, or help get them back into the game.
“My mindset every day is to just come in and get better and just do what I can to help this team,” Brunson said. “I don’t really care if it’s scoring or coming in and bringing energy or just finding a way to make sure I give my team energy.”
That concept by Brunson — he was a second-round draft pick this past June — was front and center during Wednesday’s game against the Utah Jazz. During a six-second sequence in the fourth quarter, Brunson made a layup, and then stole the ensuing inbounds pass from Derrick Favors.
From there, Brunson quickly missed an easy layup, grabbed the offensive rebound and then scored. That’s five significant things Brunson was able to achieve in a six-second span, all while scoring four crucial points.
“I just read his eyes,” Brunson said of the heads-up play he made against Favors. “He was just casual with (the basketball).”
Some 25 seconds after scoring on the inbounds steal play, Brunson capped off his solid performance by drilling a 3-pointer to get the Mavs within nine points of the Jazz. Overall, he finished the game with a career-high 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting in just 16 minutes while getting the undivided attention of the Mavs’ coaching staff.
“Brunson was a very positive factor in the game (Wednesday),” coach Rick Carlisle said. “(He did a) good job on both ends.
“He’s plus-nine in (16) minutes. That tells you he’s ready to play, which is great. We need those kinds of performances from top to bottom.”
Of course, Brunson’s basketball life is dotted with more than its share of top-notch performances. The 6-3, 190-pounder led his Chicago Stevenson High School to three Final Four appearances – and one state title – and was named Illinois’ Mr. Basketball following his senior season.
Brunson also used his exceptional skills to lead Villanova to two NCAA championships in the past three seasons.
In other words, Brunson’s DNA is that of a man who knows how to win ballgames. A man who can turn a minimal amount of playing time – he’s averaging 14.5 minutes per game this season – into something very meaningful.
“Jalen has been playing great,” forward Harrison Barnes. “His ability to come in with the second unit to get them going, the way he has his confidence right now, I love the way he’s playing.”
In essence, it’s as if Brunson has an old basketball soul and can easily dissect the nuances of the game. After all, he was around the NBA a lot, particularly since his dad, Rick Brunson, carved out a nine-year career in the NBA as a player and a six-year career as an NBA assistant coach.
The consensus National College Player of the Year and first-team All-American last season, Brunson was smack in the middle on Wednesday as the Mavs battled back from a 24-point deficit in the first half to the Jazz. He was one of the catalysts who engineered the comeback and helped give the Mavs a fighting chance.
“We just try to pride ourselves on not giving up,” Brunson said. “No matter if we’re up or down, we just keep trying to play hard.”
As to how the Mavs will bounce back from the 117-102 loss to the Jazz and prepare for Saturday’s home game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Brunson sounded like a coach addressing his team before a game.
“You focus on getting better that day,” he said. “And then the next day get better and just leave the past in the past, even though it’s hard.
“Me, I just try to be the best me I can be.”
So far, that concept by Brunson has had a very positive impact on the Mavs.
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