One of the breakout stars of this year’s NBA playoffs has been Dallas Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson. He’s old-school, unconventional, talented, savy and up for a big pay day this summer. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound guard and Villanova alum was selected No. 33 overall in the 2018 NBA Draft and is one of the better second-round draft picks over the past few classes.
Last year, he was a Sixth Man of the Year candidate, averaging 12.6 points and 5.5 assists on 52/41/80 shooting splits in this third season with the Mavericks. This season, as a full-time starter, while watching his minutes jump from 25.0 to 31.9 per game, his productivity increased to 16.3 points and 4.8 assists per game on 50/37/84 shooting. In the playoffs (35.2 minutes per contest), Brunson jumped to 21.6 points and 3.7 assists per contest on 47/35/80 shooting.
His 2022 postseason included signature performances like a 41-point game in a win over the Utah Jazz in Game 2 without Luka Dončić and a 31-point effort against the Golden State Warriors in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals. He also had a meaningful 24 points on 11-of-19 shooting in Dallas’ shocking Game 7 romping of the Phoenix Suns.
But now, he’s an unrestricted free agent. Dallas has a lot of questions to answer. How can they best build around Dončić? What do they do with Tim Hardaway Jr.? If they want to upgrade at center, what's the best answer at that position?
Among the most important questions is: do they extend Brunson? Here are some teams to watch in the Brunson sweepstakes this offseason.
NEW YORK KNICKS
The New York Knicks haven’t had a reliable point guard since Raymond Felton in their famed 54-win season back in 2012-13. Since then, it’s largely been a revolving door of meh at the point of attack at Madison Square Garden. Jose Calderon was past his peak when he got to New York. Iman Shumpert, though very talented, wasn’t a natural point guard. Frank Ntilikina is closer to a three-and-D wing than a true floor general. Jerian Grant never panned out. Neither has Kemba Walker. Derrick Rose has arguably been the best of the bunch.
Walker, Rose, Alec Burks, Immanuel Quickley and Miles McBride make up the Knicks' point guard depth chart for 2022-23, in no particular order. Walker’s health can’t be trusted for an entire season. Burks isn’t a true point guard and might be a trade chip. Quickley, if he starts, is probably better suited next to a natural point, and the same could be said for R.J. Barrett. And McBride is young, raw and inexperienced. Brunson is better than all of them, hard stop.
Because Brunson will be unrestricted, the highest-bidder has a chance. The bad news for the Knicks is that they’re pretty much capped out.
That means getting Brunson to New York would require a sign-and-trade. The good thing is that the Mavericks need a Mitchell Robinson type of center, and for about two years, I've been pushing for Brunson-Robinson swap. The Knicks should throw in something else, be it draft capital and or an additional young piece to make the deal work (for cap purposes too), but that’s the framework that can come from this. Robinson gives Luka a lob threat, gives the team a higher upside defensively, and gives the coaching staff a player who can share the floor with just about anyone on the roster.