The playoffs are where you make a name for yourself in the NBA.
Every game is nationally televised and highlighted, so when you play extremely well on this stage you’re bound to be noticed and celebrated. Such is the case for unheralded Dallas Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson, who, without the services of generational talent Luka Doncic, is making himself a very valuable target come offseason.
If Brunson maintains his hot streak up for the rest of the postseason — the former consensus national player of the year, John Wooden and Naismith award winner at Villanova, who led the Wildcats to the 2018 NCAA championship — is due for a very lucrative payday.
Losing Luka: Next Man Up
Luka Doncic is dealing with a strained left calf and has already missed the first two games of the playoff series versus the Utah Jazz. Doncic came into the season admittedly out of shape, and it seems to have caught up with him at the worst time.
According to ESPN, Doncic’s status for Thursday’s Game 3 was “uncertain,” saying the guard was “day to day.” Another source said while there is hope that Doncic could return for Game 3, it is “not a sure thing.”
There were legitimate concerns that without Luka the Mavericks would completely waste home court advantage and experience an early first-round exit against the Jazz. After dropping Game 1, the Luka-less Mavericks seemed primed for an upset in the first round.
Brunson Goes Stir-Fry Stupid In Game 2
Jalen Brunson had other plans, going for a career-high 41 points to lead the Mavericks to a win in Game 2. He also grabbed eight rebounds and dished out five assists to even the series up at 1-1. With that 41-piece, Brunson joins some legendary Mavericks company, joining Doncic, Dirk Nowitzki, Rolando Blackman, and Nick Van Exel as the only Mavericks to have 40+ points in a playoff game.
“He didn’t wait, he took up the space and was aggressive from the jump ball. We talked about it earlier. Again, don’t wait, get to your spot, and do what you do best. He ran the team extremely well. He found spots to score and make plays,” Mavs coach Jason Kidd said after the game.
Brunson’s performance was truly a masterpiece and a must-have performance for the Mavericks to keep them up to par with the Jazz in this series. With that performance, Brunson’s free-agency stock has rocketed, and so has his price tag.
Brunson has averaged 16 points per game this season, to go along with four rebounds, and just under five assists per game. Very good numbers for a second or third scoring option, especially when your star dominates the ball (37 percent usage rating on the season).
Where Does Brunson Sign?
So far, there have been four teams linked to the Villanova product and his impending free agency. The Mavericks of course have interest in keeping Brunson in Dallas, but that will prove to be a difficult task given the Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons, and New York Knicks have all shown early interest in him.
The Mavericks are confident that they will get a deal done for a contract extension, completely keeping him out of the free agent loop. They have until June 30 to get it done before he hits the free agent market. We all know money talks and he will go where he can command the most lucrative offer.
Brunson, 25, is being sought after as an efficient second or third scoring option. With his breakout performance in Game 2, the Mavericks will look to increase his role even when Luka returns from injury.
But with many teams pursuing him in free agency, the New Jersey native now has some leverage in his impending negotiations with Dallas. If Dallas does opt to reward Brunson with a nice bag and bring him back, the move will put them over the luxury tax. So, it will be interesting to see what owner Mark Cuban and his numbers-crunchers decide.
One thing is for certain. With Luka’s availability in question for Game 3, Brunson will be the man they call on to provide offense for the team. If he can continue to carry this offense, he will be one of the most attractive free agents this summer.