Basketball

New York Knicks: The Case For Jalen Brunson

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As free agency nears, the Knicks’ pursuit of Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson has become more and more clear with each and every move. On draft day, the Knicks sent the draft rights to the 11th pick, french wing Ousmane Dieng, to the Oklahoma City Thunder in return for three future conditional first-round picks. They then traded one of those first-round picks to the Pistons to offload the contract of Kemba Walker. Between those two deals, they opened up about $16 million in cap space. A few days later, they sent out Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel alongside $6 million and two second-round picks to free up more room. After all these moves, they have cleared $30 million of cap space to use on the free-agent market. All signs are pointing towards Jalen Brunson, so let’s take a look at what that means for New York.

Who is Jalen Brunson?

Jalen Brunson is a 25-year-old point guard who has spent the first four seasons of his career in Dallas after being drafted 33rd overall by the Mavericks in 2018. He was a five-star recruit who went to Villanova and won two national championships before declaring for the NBA Draft. He had his best season in 2021-22, posting 16.3 PPG, 3.9 RPG, and 4.8 APG while shooting 50.2% from the field and 37.3% from three. His father, Rick Brunson, was a longtime NBA veteran who spent multiple stints with the Knicks in the late-90s and early-2000s.

Family Ties

Jalen Brunson has ties up and down the Knicks organization. He’s the son of Rick Brunson, who the Knicks recently hired as an assistant coach. His dad was the first client of Knicks president Leon Rose when Rose represented players as an agent. One of the reasons that Rose was hired was his connections throughout the league, and this is just one example of that. While some fans have called out this move as nepotism, Brunson is the best option available regardless of that. Also, Rose’s connections have been praised for years, and now he’s finally putting them to use.

On-Court Fit

The New York Knicks tried both Kemba Walker and Alec Burks at point guard last season and neither of them brought great results. Alec Burks was clearly playing out of position, while Kemba Walker has fallen off drastically since his time with the Charlotte Hornets. In the last 18 games of the season, Immanuel Quickley was given more of an opportunity and averaged 16.3 PPG and 5.4 APG in 28.5 MPG but it’s clear that the Knicks don’t trust him to be the starting point guard. Brunson can come in and fill that role while Quickley can continue to fill it up off the bench.

Brunson has shown the ability to play with and without the ball, as his numbers without Luka Doncic on the court are similar to those when they shared the court. Brunson averaged 4.8 assists last year despite a low usage rate of just 21.9%. For reference, Luka Doncic’s usage rate was 37.4% and Julius Randle’s was 28.7%. On the Knicks, Brunson would have more chances to play with the ball in his hands. Julius Randle and RJ Barrett would still command a lot of touches, but Brunson would be the primary ball-handler.

Many rumors have floated around the Knicks so far this offseason. It’s clear that Leon Rose is planning something based on all his moves, but he’s also a quiet executive and there are very few sources within the Knicks organization. They were rumored to be pursuing Dejounte Murray but the Hawks were able to acquire him for three first-round picks and Danilo Gallinari. The problem with many of these rumors is that these moves would leave the Knicks with no spacing. Jalen Brunson can space the floor, although the Warriors dared him to shoot the three at times in the Western Conference Finals. Brunson is a career 37.3% three-point shooter and shot at that same clip last season. He’s not a high-volume shooter, however, averaging just 3.2 3PA per game.

In 2020-21, when the Knicks went 41-31 and finished fourth in the East, defense was their identity. Their backcourt defense would be a true concern with a starting lineup including Jalen Brunson and Evan Fournier. Jalen Brunson is a small guard, standing at just 6’1″, 190 lbs. He had a 0.0 DBPM last season while averaging 0.8 steals per game. The frontcourt of RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, and Mitchell Robinson would still be good defensively but there have been reports from within the Knicks organization that they don’t love the fit of Brunson and Fournier.

Contract Value

The rumors surrounding the Knicks and Jalen Brunson have said that they will likely offer him a four-year, $110M contract once free agency opens on June 30th. Reports out of Dallas have said that they offered him a five-year, $106M deal that he declined. Brunson scheduled meetings with the Miami Heat, New York Knicks, and Dallas Mavericks on the first day of free agency. One advantage that Dallas has over New York and Miami is that they can extend his contract for a fifth season as the incumbent team.

The money makes sense. Some Knicks fans have expressed that think this is an overpay, but it’s about what the market is set at. There are 13 point guards in the league that are making more than the $27.5M AAV that the Knicks have reportedly offered Brunson. That includes players like Russell Westbrook, Kyle Lowry, and D’Angelo Russell, who Brunson is already better than. Part of the argument for the deal is the expectation is that Brunson would get better as a Knick. He’s just 25 years old and has improved in each year of his young career.

The market set for young point guards is about what the Knicks are expected to offer Jalen Brunson. Terry Rozier was signed to a four-year, $96M extension prior to the 2021-22 season. Malcolm Brogdon was signed to a two-year, $45M extension that kicks in this upcoming season. Although he doesn’t fit the young point guard bill, Kyle Lowry was signed to a 3-year, $85M deal last offseason. D’Angelo Russell got a four-year, $117M deal. Brunson commanding $27.5M a year isn’t wild, especially given the way he stepped up his performance in the playoffs. In 18 games this postseason, he averaged 21.6 PPG starting alongside superstar guard Luka Doncic. While the deal the Knicks offered may seem like overpay, that’s right around what the market has been set at over the past few seasons.

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