PLANO – The Mavericks are giddy about building around young, budding stars Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, and rightfully so.
Doncic is the likely rookie of the year, which will be announced later this month. Porzingis is a unique combination of size (7-3) and shooting ability (39.5 percent from 3-point range in his All-Star season of 2017-18) that on paper should be a glove-like fit with Doncic.
However, it might be wise to embrace the idea of another young Maverick joining in the fun that Doncic and Porzingis have planned.
Jalen Brunson is coming off a strong rookie season – and he’s proven before that his first year at a new level can be a mere appetizer for the main course to come.
When he was at Villanova, Brunson had a solid freshman season – 9.6 points, 2.5 assists, 1.8 rebounds.
What he did in his second year was thumb his nose at any notion of a sophomore slump: 14.7 points, 4.1 assists and 2.7 rebounds per game.
That’s a major leap. And it suggests that his second season as an NBA player could provide an even better Brunson than the 33rd overall pick in 2018 was as a rookie.
“It has nothing to do with basketball,” Brunson said Wednesday during the first week of this summer’s Mavs Hoops Camp activities. “It has everything to do with my parents and how I was raised – just to never be satisfied. Try to get better every day. And it translates on the court. It’s something I just naturally learned how to do. It’s easier said than done. It takes determination.”
That’s who Brunson is.
What he also could very well be in 2019-20 is the starting guard alongside Doncic. The pair started together 30 times as rookies and while the results were not great (8-22), the Mavericks expect to have a few more arrows in their quiver this season with Porzingis – and whoever they might add in what figures to be a busy offseason.
“It sounds great to me,” Brunson said of a possible backcourt union with Doncic. “Obviously he’s special and does a lot for this team and this organization. But I think what I bring to the table is a person that can control the tempo, control what’s happening on the court.
“I can do basketball things, put the ball in the hoop. But as a leader, a guy who can contribute from a vocal standpoint is something we need and something I can do, for sure.”
Brunson is quickly becoming a key part of the Mavericks’ organization. He’s clearly a second-round steal on the court.
Off it, he’s already jumped into community service activities like the hoop camp Wednesday at Collin County Community College’s Spring Creek campus. He was a hit with the kids, especially during a loud game of Knockout, which gave Brunson the feeling that he was playing a road game.
All the kids were cheering for their fellow campers as they tried to beat Brunson in the shooting game.
Young Javon Williams actually did beat Brunson. Interestingly, it was on the same court last June that Dirk Nowitzki lost a game of Knockout – to a young girl.
“Well, Dirk’s also 50-what?” Brunson joked. “But I want a rematch. Nah, it was cool. It’s something he (Williams) will remember, I hope.”
But it also reminded Brunson of something he doesn’t want to forget – how losing never gets any easier. And that’s something he plans to do something about in the 2019-20 NBA season.
We always hear about players wanting to add things to their game during the offseason. Nowitzki was legendary for working hard on one aspect during the summer and coming back ready to use whatever it was he repeated for weeks in the gym.
Brunson had a bit of a different answer when asked what he had worked on specifically.
“How to win, that’s it,” he said. “Figure out ways to win. Figure out ways to win.”
This is coming from a player who was part of 49 losing nights in his rookie season (against 33 wins). In his three seasons at Villanova, where he won two national championships, Brunson lost just 13 times (against 103 wins).
To him, losing is foreign territory. The same goes for Doncic. And Porzingis, with whom Brunson already has started to forge a relationship, he said.
“We were working out together a couple weeks ago, obviously talking a lot,” the 6-3 guard said of Porzingis. “As we keep getting closer to next season, I really feel like our chemistry is going to continue to build. We’ll become even better friends off the court and that’s going to help us on the court in situations, knowing we can trust one another.”
It’s how young players build chemistry, which the Mavericks hope they have the makings of in their young threesome.