Jalen Brunson was a Most Improved Player candidate last season, but he may be having an even more improved season this year than he did last year. Through 31 games, Brunson is averaging 15 points per game, 4 rebounds per game, 5.2 assists per game, 0.8 steals per game, and 1.6 turnover per game on shooting splits of 50/33/77.
*Bold indicates career high
Brunson’s ability to create for himself and others, while not forcing bad shots or turnovers, remains one of the Mavs’ saving graces. Brunson has been efficient, and his play makes his teammates better. The hard part of this good play is, how much volume can Brunson do this at when the team is at full health?
Brunson obviously cannot get this volume consistently when he has two 20 point scorers next to him at full health in Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, but if he could continue to produce these strong per minute numbers, having three 20 point scorers in a game multiple times this season may not be unrealistic. The hard part of this becomes allowing Luka Doncic to let the ball be taken out of his hands in more volume. The Mavs have shifted away from a heliocentric offense, even if ever so slightly, that they ran last year – meaning Luka is the center of the offense, and the entire offense is centered around his playmaking for a 0 or 1 dribble shot, or he creates his own shot. The Mavs are good when Brunson and Luka share the floor already, so maybe giving a slight increase in volume for Brunson when Luka returns could be mutually beneficial. Once Luka is accounted for, then comes the Kristaps Porzingis solution, which might be a bit easier.
My ideal role for Porzingis has been, and always will be, to have him take most of his offensive minutes as an elite off-ball player, being a pick & pop threat, cutter, or simply a spot up shooter with occasional flash plays of self-creation at the free throw line. Porzingis could both benefit from and help Brunson as a third option, being a screener that helps spacing, or in helping be a decoy on Brunson drives. Regardless, Porzingis should thrive still with a newly explosive Brunson.
As for Brunson, having him continue to run the bench lineups would help him a lot, but another thing that could help the Mavs offense is having Brunson simply be the initiator more often when the 4 man group of Brunson, Doncic, Porzingis, and Dorian Finney-Smith is on the floor. In fact, the Mavs have had just 56 minutes with that 4 man group on the floor this year, which seems like an alarming fact. At best, this could be a secret weapon to run out in the playoffs. Brunson’s isolation ability and potential new volume in iso scoring could create some new troubles for opposing defenses and more unpredictability in favor of the Mavs’ offense.
The Mavs need to continue tinkering with lineups and roles in order to maximize this season. The Mavs’ new coaching staff has lowered the offensive production Rick Carlisle once maximized year in and year out, and playing to guys’ strengths with openness to change is the only way to try and get some of the Carlisle magic back into this Mavs team.