With the NBA regular season coming to an end, it’s time to give out awards to the best individual performances of the year. The Dallas Mavericks rollercoaster season means Luka Doncic will have to settle for an All-NBA team. However, there’s one Maverick being discussed for an award.
Jalen Brunson has taken a big leap this season, averaging career highs in almost every category. The former Villanova star has been hugely important to Dallas and deserves recognition for excelling off the bench. Here’s why Jalen Brunson should win Sixth Man of the Year.
What is the Sixth Man of the Year award?
The Sixth Man of the Year award is given to the NBA’s best player coming off the bench. Brunson would be the first Mav to win the award since Jason Terry in the 2008-09 season. However, he’s currently the underdog, behind Vegas favorites Jordan Clarkson and Joe Ingles.
Leader off the bench
Brunson is capable of being a starting point guard on many NBA teams — just not one that also has Luka Doncic. His main role off the bench is to run the offense while Doncic rests. The drop-off from an MVP candidate to a bench player is surprisingly not much.
Dallas runs a heavy pick-and-roll offense and Brunson is one of the most efficient pick-and-roll players in the league. At 1.10 points per possession, Brunson’s pick-and-roll is one of the best plays in the league.
While he’ll never be compared to Jason Kidd, Brunson has improved his playmaking. His drive and kick-outs have been a useful weapon for a Dallas team that loves shooting threes. Brunson’s averaging a career-high in assists and usually makes the right decision. From a pure offensive perspective, there’s not a more well-rounded bench player than Jalen Brunson.
Improvements as a scorer
Brunson came into the league as a decent shooter, but he’s taken a massive leap this season. He’s shooting 52% from the field and 39.6% from three, both career bests, despite averaging nearly 3 more field goal attempts than last season.
The real improvement has been in the paint. Brunson’s always been a solid mid-range shooter, but he’s become an elite finisher at the rim. He’s shooting at an incredible rate of 79.1%. That’s a full two percentage points better than Kawhi Leonard. For a guard his size, that’s rare. Brunson’s ability to beat defenders to the rim off the dribble has made him a unique offensive talent.
Clarkson and Ingles are both solid shooters, but they are one-dimensional. Brunson is the only bench player who can score in different ways.
Jalen Brunson is the Mavericks’ most versatile player
The Mavericks have clearly defined roles for all of their players. Doncic is the engine of the offense and everyone else must play off him. This means role players are only expected to play defense, set screens, and shoot threes. Jalen Brunson is the one player who doesn’t quite fit that mold.
Despite being undersized, Brunson is a good rebounder, which he uses for transition offense. He pushes the ball and attacks the rim before the defense is set. That’s a skillset no one else in Dallas possesses.
Even though Brunson comes off the bench, he now routinely plays in the closing lineup, usually replacing Josh Richardson. This allows Brunson to have more minutes with Doncic, where they’ve linked up well.
Doncic usually gets doubled, which can lead to problems. However, Brunson’s presence has given Doncic more options. He can play off-ball, while Brunson handles playmaking duties, or they can even screen for each other for a small guard pick and pop. Brunson’s flexibility on offense has unlocked a new level to the Dallas offense.
On a team with Kristaps Porzingis and Richardson, it’s Brunson who’s emerged as Doncic’s most valuable sidekick. It’s hard to imagine where the Mavericks would be without his contributions. They certainly wouldn’t be favorites for the fifth seed. Brunson deserves for his breakout season to be rewarded with Sixth Man of the Year. Even if it’s not, Dallas fans know how valuable Brunson is to this team.