Jalen Brunson had a career year in 2021-22, averaging career highs for 16.3 points per game (PPG), 3.9 rebounds per game (RPG), 4.8 assists per game (APG), 0.9 steals per game (SPG) and 32.2 minutes per game (MPG) in a career-best 59 starts this season. The 25-year-old Brunson helped guide the Dallas Mavericks to the Western Conference Finals. He averaged 21.6 points, 4.6 rebounds per game, 3.7 APG in the postseason and becomes an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
The Mavericks have a big decision to make next week once free agency begins. The Mavs must decide how much should the team offer Brunson to return as Nico Harrison made it clear it was the team’s priority to bring him back. Harrison must also decide what is the max number they should offer as the Mavs GM has also prioritized flexibility moving forward as well. There are many upsides and even some downsides to the Mavs re-signing Brunson back in Dallas .
Pro: Can be a strong second or third option
Brunson has shown that when he is needed most, he can step up and take charge of the team and the situation at hand. In the 17 games in which Luka Dončić didn’t play throughout the 2021-22 regular season, Brunson averaged 20.4 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 7.5 APG, and 0.9 SPG.
During the first three games of the 2022 NBA playoffs, Brunson continued to show the impact he has on the team’s success when Dončić isn’t on the court. In the three games that Dončić wasn’t able to play, Brunson averaged 32.0 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 5.3 APG, and 0.7 SPG, along with leading the Mavericks to a 2-1 series lead over the Utah Jazz. Brunson also scored a career-high 41 points in game 2 to help lead the Dallas Mavericks to a victory over Utah Jazz and tie the series 1-1 at home.
In the 62 games that Dallas’ team captain, Dončić, played during the 2021-22 regular season, Brunson still averaged 15.1 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 4.0 APG, and 0.8 SPG. Brunson’s best regular-season game this season happened early in the season when he scored a regular-season-high 31 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in a winning effort of 109-108 against the rival San Antonio Spurs.
Brunson has improved each year since his rookie season, going from averaging 9.3 PPG in his first year in the league to 16.3 PPG this past season. He’s stayed consistently healthy having played the least amount of games in his second season in the league, 57 games. He’s predominantly become a starter for the Mavericks, having started in 61 out of the 79 games he played this season.
Con: Price can be steep to bring back
Various outlets have Brunson receiving a contract in free agency worth around $85 million or more for four years. Giving Brunson the money that he is expected to receive will put the Mavericks deep in the luxury tax. Signing Brunson essentially gives the Mavericks very little room to offer other free agents good money in the foreseeable future unless they trade major pieces on the roster.
When Cuban and the Mavericks offer him a contract during free agency, they have to take all that into account. The question they need to ask themselves is whether they want Brunson as the team’s second option behind Doncic and not be able to add a lot more for a while or if they could find a few players in free agency who combined can produce numbers comparable to Brunson’s production for cheaper.
Pro: Can be used in trades
Right now Brunson’s value is the highest that it’s ever been and the Mavericks could use that to their advantage. Some big-name free agents that have been mentioned in the past as possible good fits for the Mavericks have been Zach Lavine and Bradley Beal. If one of them or another big-name free agent decides to join Dallas, Brunson can be used as a sign-and-trade piece to acquire an All-Star level player for the Mavericks. Nevertheless, double sign-and-trades are rare, the last one being when D’Angelo Russell joined the Golden State Warriors while Kevin Durant went to the Brooklyn Nets. They are rare due to a variety of factors, including player interest in joining the other team and money matching.
Another option for the Mavericks is to re-sign Brunson and wait out the three months until they can trade him. This option is a bit riskier since there’s always a chance he could perform poorly in the first three months of the season or get injured and lower his value around the league. At the same time, it could be worth it if he performs like he did this past season and raises his value even more. If a team is doing poorly and selling around the trade deadline, Brunson could be used as a piece to acquire another All-Star caliber player to the team.
Con: Fear of Brunson not Improving Much More
Even though Brunson is only 25 years old, the fear of history repeating itself is on some people’s minds. There have been many players in the past, in all sports, who did exceptionally well in their contract year, and then declined once they signed a new lucrative contract. Mavericks fans have seen it before when they signed Erick Dampier to a seven-year, $73 million contract in 2004, as soon as he joined the team his offense began to decline. Chandler Parsons, another former Maverick, had a similar experience when he signed a contract with the Grizzlies and began to struggle while still a Maverick.
It was evident this year that Brunson could shine and step up when necessary, and his stats have improved each year as well, but there is a ceiling to him, and the question is whether he has reached it yet. The biggest weaknesses of Brunson are his three-point shooting and his defense. The three-point shooting is not that much of a worry since he’s a career 37.3% from beyond the arc while attempting 2.7 three-pointers per game which is still good. Brunson has continued to improve his three-point shooting year by year and he’s also taken more threes per game. He’s not going to be a three-point sniper like the Curry brothers or Klay Thompson, but he’ll be very helpful in spacing the floor for the Mavericks if he keeps improving and increases his shooting while doing so.
His defense has to be worked on more than his three-point shooting. In terms of offense, he’s nearly unstoppable when he heats up, but defensively he has a lot to improve. As a 6′ 1″ guard, he isn’t as tall as most of his opponents, so they have the height advantage most of the time. In his career so far he’s averaged 3.0 RPG, 0.6 SPG, and almost 0 blocks per game (BPG). Considering his height, it makes sense that his blocks are low and his rebounds per game are average. If he can increase the number of steals he makes per game as he has in the past, his defense would become less of a liability. Currently, the Mavericks have a good amount of guards who are good offensively, but they need one who is just as good defensively. If Brunson can become such a player, he can be a great asset for the team, but currently, he has an average defense.
For the Mavericks, if they believe Brunson has reached his peak and can’t improve his three-point shooting anymore and especially his defense, then the team might look for a cheaper defensive-minded guard in free agency that can shoot a high volume of threes while still being consistent.
Will the Mavericks Pay Up?
Cuban has to weigh out all the options and decide if Brunson is worth opening the checkbook for. It would seem like the Mavericks would be willing to re-sign Brunson after all the hard work he has put in each season, especially this past one when he made tremendous strides. It doesn’t seem like Cuban wants to make the same mistake he made in 2004 with Steve Nash and lose another potential superstar in Brunson.
Mavericks general manager Nico Harrison has said that bringing Brunson back is a “top priority” and Cuban believes Brunson wants to stay with the team. Now it is all up to the Mavericks organization and Brunson on if he’s going to be donning a Mavs jersey come the first game of the 2022-23 NBA season.