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Jalen Brunson Spurns Mavs in Free Agency: 3 Key Reasons for Tougher Situation with Knicks

Jalen Brunson has earned the opportunity to run his own team, but doing so is a lot easier said than done.

We should take a brief moment to appreciate Jalen Brunson's 'glow up,' as he went from struggling mightily in the 2021 postseason against the Los Angeles Clippers to being a Dallas Mavericks postseason hero in 2022.

After being held in check – to a certain extent – under previous coach Rick Carlisle, Brunson excelled under the leadership of Jason Kidd in his first year as Mavs head coach and was inserted as a full-time starter in December. Many wondered if a starting backcourt of Brunson and Luka Doncic would be able to hold up defensively, but with great collective efforts and the help of their supporting cast, they proved to be one of the deadliest combos in the league against any opponent on any give night.

Now, though, those "immaculate vibes," as Brunson would say, are over. On Thursday, as free agency opened, Brunson officially decided to leave the team that drafted him to join the team he grew up a fan of – the New York Knicks. Not only did Brunson secure a massive payday with a four-year, $104 million contract, but he'll also get a chance to run his own team for the first time in his NBA career as well.

Although Brunson is more than capable of being the lead guard on a team, things will be a little bit different for him now that he won't have Doncic to take the pressure off of him at times, especially with the Knicks' fan base, which can be unforgiving. Here are the three biggest reasons Brunson might have a tougher time in New York than anticipated.

Harsher Media / Fan Base

Dallas isn't a small market by any means, but it's just a fact that the spotlight is bigger in New York, especially when you go from being the No. 2 option to a No. 1 option. However, with greater responsibility comes greater expectations ... and greater backlash if those expectations aren't met.

As good as Brunson was in the playoffs for the Mavs this year, he still had some games where he fell well short of what his new price tag is in New York – for example, Games 1 and 2 against the Phoenix Suns in the second round when he scored just 13 and nine points respectively on a combined 9-29 shooting from the field. Dallas lost both of those games despite Doncic putting up a combined 70 points.

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Given how the New York media and fan base treated a struggling Julius Randle last season after he led the Knicks to the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons the year prior, Brunson will have to make sure he keeps his foot on the gas at all times to avoid that same fate.

Lack Of Floor Spacing 

Brunson should be applauded for all of his hard work, as he's improved every single season since being drafted in 2018. However, one area that Brunson benefited greatly from this year with the Mavs was their floor spacing. Sharing the floor with a star like Doncic who possesses a gravitational pull on the court will always take pressure off of you. Then you have to factor in the Mavs having 3-and-D sharpshooters Dorian Finney-Smith and Reggie Bullock stretching out opposing defenses as well.

This aspect is going to be slightly different for Brunson in New York, assuming there aren't anymore major roster moves coming in the near future. A potential starting trio consisting of Brunson, who doesn't shoot many 3s, Randle (41.1% from the field) and RJ Barrett (40.8% from the field) could make things tighter than usual for Tom Thibodeau's offense.

Lack Of Size On Defense

Brunson is one of the toughest players in the league, especially on the offensive end of the floor, as he often bulldozes his way through defenders for easy layups or floaters. Although he's stronger than most people might think on the other end of the floor, though, Brunson might struggle defensively as a 6-foot-1 lead guard – especially if he gets targeted more on that end in the same way the Mavs targeted Chris Paul in the playoffs.

Brunson is more than capable of overcoming all of these things in order to take the next step as an NBA player next season, but it won't be easy. He will soon experience more of what Doncic has for the previous four years as he takes on the Big Apple.