It is incredibly difficult to find value outside of the first round of the NBA Draft, but it appears as though the Dallas Mavericks struck gold when they selected Jalen Brunson with the 33rd overall pick in 2018.
While Brunson got the season off to a slow start - not a huge surprise seeing as he was Dallas' third string point guard at the time - he's been one of the more consistent rookies over the last couple of months. Since being inserted into the starting lineup on Jan. 31, which is when the Mavericks traded Dennis Smith Jr. to the New York Knicks for Kristaps Porzingis, the Villanova product is averaging 13.5 points, 4.2 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game on 50.4 percent shooting from the field and 37.6 percent shooting from deep.
Those numbers obviously don't pop in the same way that Trae Young's or Luka Doncic's do, but Brunson has proven himself to be a key part of the Mavericks' bright future.
MORE: A new No. 1 in the Rookie Ladder
Brunson's path to this point of his career puts him on a similar trajectory as Toronto Raptors backup guard Fred VanVleet. VanVleet spent one more year at Wichita State than Brunson did at Villanova and didn't hear his name called at all in the 2016 NBA Draft, and yet the two came into the league with similar strengths (smart floor generals with well-rounded skill sets) and weaknesses (older rookies with questionable physical tools) in the eyes of scouts.
ESPN's Jay Bilas even said " he reminds you a little bit of VanVleet " when Brunson was selected by the Mavericks in the 2018 NBA Draft.
So how do the two compare statistically as rookies? Whereas Brunson has the edge offensively, VanVleet has it defensively.
Through 66 games of his rookie season, Brunson is averaging 15.3 points, 4.9 assists and 3.9 rebounds per 36 minutes on 47.3 percent shooting from the field and 36.1 percent shooting from deep.
VanVleet wasn't far behind him with 13.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.3 assists per 36 minutes, only he shot worse from the field (35.1 percent) and slightly better from 3-point range (37.9 percent).
VanVleet, however, was a more disruptive defender, posting 2.0 steals and 0.4 blocks per 36 minutes compared to only 0.9 steals and 0.1 blocks for Brunson.
A key difference between the two is that VanVleet spent a lot of his rookie season playing in the D-League (now G League), where he won a championship with the Raptors 905. He appeared in only 37 games with the Toronto Raptors, who finished with the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference that season, and played mostly garbage minutes.
VanVleet has since blossomed into one of the league's best reserves. He was a finalist for the Sixth Man of the Year award last season and has established himself as a key part of a Raptors team that has hopes of competing for a title.
MORE: VanVleet expects to be an NBA starter 'very, very' soon
Brunson, on the other hand, finds himself playing for a Mavericks team whose hopes of making the playoffs ended a long time ago. They're 6-18 since the Porzingis trade at the end of January, a rough stretch that has seen them freefall down the Western Conference standings.
On the bright side for Brunson, that has given him the same opportunity in the NBA that VanVleet got when he was in the D-League - a chance to play through his mistakes and learn what it takes to make a name for himself at the highest level.
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