May 17, 2022

Charlie Doodle

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Brunson’s ‘gravity feet’ lifting Mavericks to great heights in the paint

4 min read

While visiting with Gordon Chiesa, a longtime Utah Jazz coach with Jerry Sloan and 30-year NBA coaching veteran, before Game 6 on Thursday, the prime subject was Jalen Brunson’s spin-cycle work in the paint.

In this era when it seems like missed three-pointers are more appealing than made two-pointers, Brunson has become one of the best guards in the league at operating in the paint among the shot-blockers and physically dominant centers.

Chiesa said it’s because Brunson has what he called “Gravity Feet.”

His footwork and ability to get you off balance is incredible, Chiesa said. “It’s what they teach at Villanova,” he said.

Actually, it started much earlier than that, Brunson said after he’d bombarded the Jazz with 27.8 points per game. In the six games against Utah, he scored 131 of his 167 points inside the three-point arc.

He took time to explain to mavs.com how he’s able to mix it up in the paint with so much success.

“I know I’m not the most athletic and I’m not the fastest,” Brunson said. “But I know how to kind of work angles and use people’s size and athleticism against them. And I just try to keep them off balance. And I’ve been doing that for a long time now.

“It started earlier than (Villanova). But Villanova definitely enhanced it.”

On one possession in Game 6 against the Jazz, Brunson was going full steam toward the basket, stopped abruptly, faked a fadeaway, ducked under the defense and eventually stepped back for a soft 12-foot jumper that nestled into the net.

Jazz center Rudy Gobert still hasn’t found Brunson on that play.

As the Mavericks begin conference semifinal play Monday night at Phoenix (9 p.m. tipoff),

The Mavericks are blessed to have a pair of guards who know their way around the paint. Luka Dončić is a master of getting opponents on his hip or off balance and converting around the rim.

He knows the value of footwork, although he said he and Brunson never really talk about it.

“I think footwork is one of the best skills in basketball,” Dončić said. “If you know how to use the footwork – an example of some of the best footwork is Jokic. You can see the way his footwork is unbelievable. It’s one of the best basketball skills. You can attack their back legs, their hip. It depends on who is on you. You just got to think.”

That’s why Brunson and Luka are in such a good position to make use of the paint. Coach Jason Kidd was much the same for a long time as a player, until he became a dangerous three-point shooter later in his career.

Not that Brunson isn’t adept at the three-point line. He made 12-of-33 3-pointers in the series against Utah.

But his bread and butter is when he can use his sneaky quickness to get by a defender and either get to the rim or begin his series of moves to work himself free for a point-blank fallaway or floater.

“One thing about me is I just love to kind of be able to play where I’m in control,” the 6-1 Brunson said. “And I feel if I’m going off one foot trying to finish sometimes over a taller, lankier defender, it may not be the best situation at the time. I know when to use it and when not to. I have multiple ways to kind of figure out how to create a problem.”

And he’s done so at an outstanding rate in the playoffs so far. Brunson was the hero of the first-round series, getting the Mavericks to a 2-1 series lead in the three games that Luka missed.

And he’s giving opponents something to think about when they try to gang up on Dončić.

“His footwork is incredible,” said Kidd, who was no stranger to using his feet to his advantage as a player. “It’s kind of like that boxer-type footwork or soccer, where you can control your lower half and still know where you want to get to.

“But also, it’s probably in the family and the fundamentals from his high school or elementary coach – just understanding how cool it is to have the fundamentals of footwork, of being able to pivot and still be a threat to score. I didn’t have that in my game.”

Kidd is being modest. But the important thing is that Brunson does have that flair. And Kidd encourages the use of it.

It’s come in handy against the defenses that get stickier as the playoffs go along.

Twitter: @ESefko

Brunson’s ‘gravity feet’ lifting Mavericks to great heights in the paint

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