The season is still young. While many questions remain about the Dallas Mavericks, their new front office and reconstructed coaching staff, a few pictures are coming clear. Luka Doncic is the unquestioned face of the team, but another player is stepping up and having an impact.
Through seven games, Jalen Brunson has emerged as one of the Mavericks’ top scorers and playmakers. Not only is he quarterbacking the second unit as the team’s sixth man, he’s closing games down the stretch. If it seems like Brunson is playing more inspired basketball this season, that’s because he is. He’s in a contract year.
Brunson is in the final year of his four-year, $6.1 million rookie contract. This season, he’s making $1.8 million and will become a free agent this summer. Based on how he’s playing now, he stands to make much more when he signs a new deal.
On the open market, he could potentially command upwards of $55 million over the course of a three-year deal. It’s a lofty figure, but when you consider what he’s done both in college and as a professional, it’s deserved.
“Watching his career—not just at the NBA level—he’s a winner,” Mavericks Head Coach Jason Kidd said. “So, being able to talk to him this summer, I just asked him, what did he want to do? Let’s get to No. 1: getting paid. But now let’s move to No. 2. I told him his leadership is going to be key then.”
This season, Brunson is averaging 12.7 points on 47.4% shooting overall and 45.5% on three-pointers, one of the highest marks on the team. He’s also pulling down 4.6 rebounds and dishing 4.4 assists per game. Almost across the board, these numbers are career highs.
“For me, it’s just always been about improving every aspect of my game every summer,” Brunson said. “I don’t want to necessarily just say I just focus on playmaking. But for me, I play the cards I’m dealt. Last year, I kind of had to play more off-ball when Luka was in the game—it’s just knowing when to score and when to make plays.”
Thanks to his heady contributions, Kidd inserted Brunson into the starting lineup Tuesday against the Miami Heat as the team continues to deal with injuries to Kristaps Porzingis and Maxi Kleber. In the start, he scored 25 points, had seven rebounds and three assists while shooting 76.9% overall.
“I think it’s good—as long as we have more people that create,” Doncic said about Brunson being a starter. “He did a great job in not just creating but scoring. I think it gets a load off of me to bring the ball up. I think he did a great job.”
Brunson’s continued improvement year-after-year and versatility on the floor make him a valuable asset for the Mavericks. Since Dallas didn’t offer him an extension by the October 18 deadline, he becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer. When he does, plenty of teams will be potentially vying for his talents, not just Dallas.
“I think Jalen is a born leader—loves the moment of the game, tied or needing a stop,” Kidd said. “He’s a competitor. He could start in this league easily. So, to have that kind of weapon to come off the bench is big. He’s been great for us.”