Jalen Brunson vs. Mavericks: What’s changed since he left Dallas for the Knicks?

Jalen Brunson vs. Mavericks: What’s changed since he left Dallas for the Knicks?

Jalen Brunsonthe New York Knicks new $100 million man, will face his old team on Saturday for the first time since leaving Dallas for New York. The real return comes later in the month, when the Knicks head to Texas to play Mavericksbut Saturday’s game is the appetizer.

It will be Brunson’s first taste of what it will be like to go against a group he helped to the Western Conference finals in May.

Mavericks beat the writer Tim Cato and the Knicks beat the writer Fred Katz will be on stage. They talked about Brunson’s fast start in New York, what he left behind in Dallas and how the Mavericks are still trying to replace him.

Tim Cato: Fred, this conversation we’re about to have sounds familiar. Just a few years ago, it was Kristaps Porzingis switching between these two teams that warranted a conversation on the ramifications for both parties. Now, it’s Brunson who has reversed that shift.

I described the Mavericks as having a “Brunson sized hole” several times this season, but for now let’s just wait. This conversation is about Brunson himself, first and foremost. How has it been with the Knicks since the season started?

Fred Katz: Tim, I always appreciate a writer who has the stones to quote himself to start a story.

Cato: Sometimes, you can’t say it any better than you’ve already said it.

Catz: He’s not the same Brunson he was in Dallas, or so it would seem.

Brunson has never carried this much of his team’s offense since the start of a season. He has never shot so much. In New York, the show is his. It wasn’t like that seven months ago.

It wasn’t a guarantee when Brunson first signed with the Knicks last summer. New York’s roster didn’t look the most favorable for a guard who plays like a 1990s big man. Brunson needs space to get out of his moves on the low block, and the Knicks don’t have a shot, especially on the first drive. However, Brunson has not only made it work, he has thrived in those conditions and could be in the All-Star conversation whenever that comes up, which was never the case earlier in his career.

Those who have looked closely may have predicted something like this. Brunson exploded during the Mavericks’ playoff run last spring, especially when the team was without its MVP candidate, Luka Doncic. For a couple of seasons, Brunson scored in bunches in the Mavericks’ offense while Dončić sat on the bench.

But there’s a difference between grabbing the reins in the nick of time and grabbing them from the start of training camp and never letting go. All of his fun floaters and center-aspirant moves have led him to an impressively efficient 21.3 points per game.

Tim, you’ve seen all those moments when he controlled the offense without Dončić. You were there when he dropped 41 al Utah Jazz in a playoff win without Dončić and then went for 31 the next game. But those buckets also came within an offense that placed at least three shooters around them at all times.

Did you foresee him fitting in with the Knicks so perfectly?

Cato: Brunson became a ruthlessly intelligent and effective scoring guard during his four seasons in Dallas, and he changed my mind about what he could be. After his rookie year, he wouldn’t have predicted his final season in Dallas would be possible.

So in a way, no, I’m not surprised that it came out and proved even more than expected. But he didn’t expect his subsequent jump to happen so soon.

This is very important because his “breakout” season last season was not one. He received a bigger role, going from 25 minutes per game in his third year to 31.9 in his fourth, but traded efficiency to maintain his per-minute numbers.

Brunson’s last two seasons in Dallas

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This is not a knock on him. He had become a good player in his third season, and he carried it when Jason Kidd arrived. There are areas where he improved, and those two games without Dončić against Utah were certainly telling. But those per-minute numbers are one of the reasons the Mavericks didn’t value him as highly as the Knicks.

You say he’s having an All-Star season, and it’s hard to disagree. Do you think this is sustainable? Can he continue to do what he has done in this first quarter of the season?

Catz: I don’t see why not. My biggest doubt for Brunson coming into this season was that his low-post moves take time to complete, and I wasn’t convinced he could move as freely within a Knicks first unit that lacked shooting 3 points After 22 games, that concern has come to an end. Brunson has been so smart at cutting into space, even when helping defenders fly in his direction, that I don’t see his production changing much.

He gets to the paint when he wants to. he is took more shots from floating range — whether they’re real floats or those little change jumpers he loves — that no one else from the N.B.A. Fifty-two players take at least three shots per game from this area of ​​the floor; the only ones with better percentages than Brunson are three MVPs and a perennial NBA contender (Kevin Durant, Nikola Jokic, Stephen Curry i Kyrie Irving). He’s getting to the free throw line more than ever.

The attack works more easily when he is outside. Your shot profile has become one of the friendliest analysts in the league for his presence. It also passes the eye test. Look at the Knicks, and they’re clumsy at times. The shoot will be cold. But Brunson has been the constant. It doesn’t seem like some kind of miraculous stretch when he ends up with 32 points.

There is no doubt that it has exceeded expectations. After the Knicks took occasional flak for shelling out nine figures for him, there are plenty of New York-related angles to take it on.

But I’ve sat in my seat at Madison Square Garden at times this season and wondered about the Dallas side of Brunson’s breakout, too.

The non-conformists it’s been Luka’s show this season, more than ever. Their role players fight from beyond the arc, though you should imagine Tim Hardaway Jr. and annual slow start Reggie Bullock are due to heat waves. Once again, they are desperate for another ball handler to slot alongside Dončić. If they had extended Brunson a year ago or paid through the nose to keep him in free agency (and sucked up the luxury tax dollars that would have involved doing so), they might be in a different place.

Would the Mavs read my analysis here and tell me I’m wrong? Do you think they regret the way they handled any part of the Brunson situation? And how do you think they can find a way to regain the production they lost?

Cato: There’s no question that Dallas mishandled the Brunson situation; it’s just a matter of when and how much. They definitely should have extended it before last season. They misjudged how easily New York could clear cap space to sign him. It’s sad that Brunson is no longer on the team, but it’s hard to analyze precisely which factors of his decision last summer could have been avoided.

The Mavericks without Brunson have a lower ceiling, but his presence alone wouldn’t elevate them to title contention. This is the tricky part of it; they lost a player for nothing, but future moves still await them. I think that’s one of the reasons Brunson felt New York was so attractive. Dallas wanted him back. The Knicks want to build around him.

Dallas misses his steady play and efficiency in the middle court. Brunson’s work inside the arc made up for some offensive deficiencies they had even last season. The Mavericks are still right about the general view that they wouldn’t win a championship with Brunson as the second-best player next to Dončić. Maybe not, but they sure miss him.

That said, despite the recent slump, I still think this is a good team. It’s hard to be anything other than that with Dončić playing like him. I’m not entirely sure what to expect from this Saturday’s game, although I know the Mavericks certainly hold no hard feelings toward Brunson. What do you think we will see?

Catz: If I knew, it wouldn’t be because Brunson told me. Wednesday night, after a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, Brunson sat on a stool next to his locker answering questions about another close loss to a competitive team. He said he was excited. The Knicks had played well against a title contender, but not well enough.

Finally, Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News asked the question the rest of us must have been thinking: What were Brunson’s thoughts on the upcoming game against his former team?

Brunson, always refined, was short.

“Our next game,” he said.

This is?

He shook his head slowly, as if to say there was nothing special about a December game against that North Texas team, and repeated, “Our next game.”

This, apparently, really was.

Cato: Ah, that sounds exactly like him. He’s always been a never too low, never too high kind of guy, especially with his responses to the media.

Catz: He must be thinking about it, right? Considering all the reports about the Mavericks never offering him an extension, which his father checked in with near the end of last season to discuss his pending free agency, how did he sign a big deal with the Knicks at the time free agency began, handling charges that we haven’t talked about yet and that are still up in the air. … There has to be some extra excitement to this one. It would only be natural.

Cato: Yes, I think his answers are authentic in the sense that he try to maintain this balanced mindset at all times. But I imagine doing it for this next game requires some extra work.

Catz: With all that said, what do I expect? I hope Brunson looks like Brunson. I expect it to be cut down the middle and, with an awkward foot, nail a few six to eight feet. I hope he tries to take at least one charge. I expect him to attempt at least three misses from inside the free throw line. I expect him to make most or all of his free throws when he gets there.

The best part of Brunson’s season hasn’t been the overall numbers. It has been his firmness. The Knicks have gone 10-12 with a box of chocolate defense and constant struggles on the glass, but Brunson has rarely come up short. He has been one of the most reliable weapons in the league. Only a few times can you walk away from one of his games thinking he was the problem that night.

So I hope we see more of the same because Brunson has given me no reason to expect otherwise.

Cato: That sounds about right, and that’s what I expected too. I look forward to seeing it. And I also wonder what the Mavericks feel when they see him again.

(Brunson top photo: Mike Stobe/NBAE via Getty Images)

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