The Eye of Jalen Brunson: Have the Mavs Found Themselves Their Permanent JJ Barea Replacement?


Jalen Brunson started the season slowly against Washington, going 3-10 from the field with 3 assists and 4 turnovers. In the 3 games since, Brunson has not recorded a turnover, and has had an elite 12:0 assist:turnover ratio. Now, his season stats look as such:

24 minutes per game, averaging 9.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.8 APG, and just 1 turnover per game on shooting splits of 40/29/50. The shooting splits show the opposite end of small sample size as his counting stats, where a one or two bad statistical games can put a player at an automatic disadvantage to start the season.

After reviewing the film, there’s been an obvious change from the first game to the following 3 games. His turnovers were pretty minor: two bad passes, a travel, and a questionable moving screen call, as seen below:

The obvious difference in plays from the Wizards game and the other three games is decision making. Something that plagued his shot last year, particularly in his weakest zones, was a hesitance to shoot. The same happened in his playmaking department, where he makes the read, but hesitates to act upon it. However, in the 3 games after the opener, he begins to immediately react upon his reads. Here is a series of his notable assists from October:

There are three types of high-level assists shown in 12 of his 15 assists of the season: finding shooters off of screens, drive & kicks, and passes to cutters.

With the return of Dwight Powell, Brunson will now have even more opportunities to make aerial passes, with three excellent threats in Maxi Kleber, Dwight Powell, and Kristaps Porzingis. All three are players that Brunson should be sharing the court with for extended minutes.

Brunson has fully inherited the JJ Barea role, and will only continue to grow within that role. This is mostly remarkable because, while the sample size is small, Barea was in his 5th season when he averaged what Brunson has averaged in October. Brunson is 3 years younger than Barea was in the 2010-11 season that Barea hit 9.5 PPG, which should be an optimistic sign for the future.

During the 2018 NBA Draft process, I had called Jalen Brunson a “JJ Barea type” in how he could thrive as a backup point guard to run the offense, limit turnovers, change the pace, and know how to make up for his physical and defensive deficiencies. While I expected Brunson to have an impact early on in his career, I did not expect the advancements to come this quickly. As Brunson continues to build confidence and react as quick as he reads, he should continue to progress towards being one of the league’s elite backup point guard.