The Kristaps Porzingis trade was seen as a temporary setback to step forward later. Any hope of preventing the recoil has been rooted in the belief that Luka Doncic ‘can thrive even more by running a historic usage rate in a heliocentric offense. Luka already has the 9th highest burn rate in NBA history this season with a 37.1% burn rate. This includes a staggering 47.3% utilization rate since the Porzingis trade announcement.
It’s not sustainable. The single-season usage rate record is 41.7% by Russell Westbrook in his MVP season. James Harden is the only other person to have a usage rate above 40%, and that was in 2018-19. But Luka isn’t the only person to get a clarified role and extra usage since the swap.
Porzingis played his last game in Dallas on Jan. 29 against the Indiana Pacers. The Mavericks have played 9 games since then. They played 50 games before that. Of those 50 games, Jalen Brunson played in 49. In those 49 games, Brunson averaged 15.7 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 5.6 assists on 50.1 percent shooting from the field and 34.0% shots on three. Perhaps more importantly, he took just 2.9 three-point attempts per game. He did it all in 31.3 minutes per game with a +2.4 plus/minus.
In the 9 games since, Brunson has increased his minutes to 36.1 minutes per game, which is star territory. He is averaging 19.1 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.2 assists. He shot 51.2 percent from the field and 48.7 percent from three and took 4.3 threes per game. His plus minus nearly doubled to +4.6 per game.
Brunson’s use and subsequently his game changed without Porzingis. Brunson is still a secondary playmaker, attacking defenses that Luka has already bent to his will. But his main use is now the second scoring option next to Luka. The most important development for this role is the improvement of its jumper.
Generally speaking, increases in volume lead to a decrease in efficiency. Brunson was able to dramatically improve his efficiency while increasing his attempts by more than 50% per game. The result has been a big improvement in ratings and rating consistency. Brunson has scored 19 or more points in seven of nine games since Porzingis last played. He had done so in 13 of the previous 49 games he had played. Five of the previous 13 have also happened without Porzingis playing.
What does this mean moving forward? Jalen Brunson is going to be paid. Brunson is different from the majority of undersized scoring guards because of the efficiency with which he scores. His improved shot only increased this effectiveness. Brunson has a 62.4% true shooting percentage since the last time Porzingis played. Brunson took 3.6 catches and shot threes during that span and made them at an astonishing 56.3%. Prior to those games, he had taken just 1.9 per game. Brunson has shot just 27.4 percent from three while sharing the floor with Porzingis this season. He shot 42.4% from three without Porzingis.
The game against the Miami Heat was a perfect example of Brunson’s game recalibration. In his first 49 games, Brunson was 13 for 33 on all three corners. Over the last 9 games, Brunson is 14 of 22. The games above show why he takes and does more of these looks. Spencer Dinwiddie came into the trade and Josh Green started. These two players are the first passing players. Porzingis was clearly a first scoring player. Porzingis probably would have fired the ball in the situation where Dinwiddie and Green passed to Brunson. And of course, Luka is the best three-corner creator in the NBA. Brunson now has the ability to get three-assisted three-way corners.
The Mavericks have been looking for a sidekick for Luka since he arrived. They also looked for the right shooter to play with Luka. The ideal person to manage both roles has been here from the start. We just had to give him a chance and give him the right role. Porzingis’ trade put him in that role and the Mavericks reaped the benefits.