Looking back, Jalen Brunson getting drafted 33rd in last year’s NBA draft was almost as stunning as Luka Doncic falling all the way to third overall.
The Mavericks have a franchise cornerstone in Doncic, of course.
But they also found an absolute gift with their second-round pick of Brunson. It turns out that winning two NCAA championships in three seasons with Villanova translates just dandy into the NBA.
So well, in fact, that it’s not a stretch to make the case that Brunson should receive some consideration when it comes time for media members to start selecting their all-rookie teams.
Brunson has been on a terrific run in the last two months. Since Jan. 5, he’s averaged 9.7 points, 3.5 assists and 3.1 rebounds while shooting a robust 41.2 percent from 3-point range. He’s started 13 of those 24 games and averaged 23.5 minutes in them.
Recently, it’s been even better. Since Feb. 1, he’s averaged 10.9 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 27 minutes per game. He’s started 11 of those 13 games.
For the season, he’s the second-leading scorer among the 30 players selected in the second round of the draft. Brooklyn’s Rodions Kurucs, taken 40th, is the leader. Brunson ranks in the top 20 among rookies in scoring at 7.4 points and is in the top 10 in assists and 3-point shooting percentage.
“He’s gotten better and better as the year has gone on,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “He’s worked very hard, but he’s stuck with the process of spacing and stepping into shots. The NBA is a long season. You just got to stay the course on things.
“He didn’t shoot it particularly well early, but he’s learned to space the floor since then. And he’s worked a lot on his shot, his rhythm and range. When you stick with the plan, good things will happen.”
Carlisle sees a great future for Brunson, who at 6-3 has good enough size to play alongside the 6-7 Luka Doncic against virtually any opposing backcourt.
“He’s young. He’s 22. I just think Jalen is the kind of guy that is going to keep learning about the league, about how to do things more efficiently, more productively, Carlisle said. “He’ll learn more about opponent tendencies.
“What are his physical ceilings? I think he’s a deceptively good athlete and his deceptive quickness and change-of-pace speed is one of the things that makes him difficult to guard.”
Brunson probably will get overlooked when it comes to all-rookie selections, although a continued late-season push could keep him in the picture for voters. He’s certainly getting enough playing time now and his confidence has grown exponentially.
Making the first team all-rookie squad is out of the question. There is a decent chance that the first team might end up being the first five selections of the 2018 draft: Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley Jr., Doncic, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Trae Young.
All are averaging at least 13.5 points per game and the only other rookie who can claim that is Cleveland’s Collin Sexton at 15.1 points per game.
Others, like Chicago’s Wendell Carter Jr., the Clippers Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and New York’s Kevin Knox have had solid rookie seasons. But the list starts to dwindle when you get past them.
Among players drafted 12th or lower, Atlanta’s Kevin Huerter (9.3 points), the Clippers’ Landry Shamet (8.9 points) and Kurucs are the only players averaging more points than Brunson.
Brunson hasn’t given a lot of thought about the future. He prefers to look ahead, not even to the end of this season. Instead, he’ll work on helping this team, which has gone into exploratory mode since the All-Star break, using every game and every minute to evaluate everybody on the roster.
Next season will be here before you know it and the Mavericks figure to have a much different look in 2019-20 with Kristaps Porzingis joining Doncic. Brunson will be a part of whatever personality that team takes on.
“I’m here to help keep the energy up,” Brunson says. “Obviously, Luka means a lot to this team, but I try to play pickup defense and stay available. And I’m always going to play hard.
“As the year has gone on, I’ve gained more confidence. I’m trying to play with what the defense gives me.”
For now, that’s put him on an upward trend that keeps letting a lot of teams know that there was no way Brunson should have slipped to the third pick of the second round.
For more on Jalen Brunson, including a look back at his years at Villanova, visit: https://www.mavs.com/jalen-brunson-is-proving-this-mavs-rookie-class-consists-of-two-first-round-talents-not-just-one/ via @dallasmavs