Basketball

Jalen Brunson a Surprise Star for New York Knicks

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The New York Knicks enter the 2022-23 season after a generally disappointing 2021-22 season that ended with a 37-45 record and an 11th-place finish in the Eastern Conference. Since then, they signed Jalen Brunson to a four-year, $104 million deal and locked up RJ Barrett to a four-year, $120 million extension. The Knicks’ roster has a reliable point guard for the first time in over a decade. On paper, the Knicks are putting out arguably their best team since 2013. At the same time, however, many of their Eastern Conference rivals have also gotten significantly better this offseason.

Jalen Brunson and the Starting Lineup

The Knicks adding Jalen Brunson is perhaps one of the most overlooked moves of the offseason. Although the signing got a lot of attention for off-the-court reasons, the on-court differences have gone under the radar. In the preseason, Brunson averaged 17.8 points and 4.3 assists while playing 26.0 MPG and shooting 49.0% from the field. While it’s a small sample size of meaningless games, there’s no denying that Brunson is a huge upgrade from the Alec Burks/Kemba Walker tandem that the Knicks employed at point guard in 2021-22.

Brunson’s playmaking abilities can also change the game for young wing RJ Barrett. Instead of running a high volume of isolations, he can play more off the ball and attack as a slasher and spot-up shooter. In the preseason, he shot 50.0% (6 3PA/G) from three compared to 34.2% in last year’s regular season. It’s only a four-game, 24-shot sample size, but the number of open, catch-and-shoot attempts that he got was promising.

Video from NBA Advanced Stats
Video from NBA Advanced Stats

In the first clip, Brunson blows by Jaden Ivey and causes Cade Cunningham to help off Barrett, leaving him open for a spot-up corner three. In the second clip, Barrett’s defender Chris Duarte steps off to double-team a potential Brunson isolation, leaving Barrett open for a catch-and-shoot three.

Last season, the Knicks’ bench unit significantly outplayed their starting lineup. While Julius Randle‘s regression was certainly a factor, the main issue was the lack of a capable Knicks point guard. When Immanuel Quickley, for example, played with the starters, the Knicks were a different team than they were with Burks or Walker. The Burks-led Knicks played the slowest basketball in the league last year, while a backcourt tandem of Walker and Evan Fournier would get exploited on the defensive end. Brunson, although he lacks the size to guard wings and forwards, is a capable defender who should be able to solve both of those problems.

Brunson’s Scoring Abilities

Jalen Brunson is just a career 11.9 PPG scorer, but he has improved greatly as a scorer since entering the league. In 2021-22, he averaged 16.3 PPG in the regular season before stepping up greatly in Dallas’ conference finals run. In the postseason, Brunson dropped games of 41, 31, 31, and 28 while averaging 21.6 PPG. He rightfully isn’t known as a prolific scorer, but he adds a unique element to the Knicks’ offense.

Brunson’s best quality as a scorer is his efficiency. Alongside volume scorers like Barrett and Randle, his efficiency will be even more impactful. Last year, Brunson shot 50.2% from the field and 37.3% from three. Although he doesn’t attempt a high volume of threes, he hits them at a high enough rate that teams must respect his jumper. Brunson’s 58.3% TS% ranked 3rd in the league among point guards with as many minutes played in 2021-22.

Video from NBA Advanced Stats

Brunson’s creativity and ability to make something out of nothing will be a huge addition to a Knicks offense that stagnated consistently last season. He’ll be taking on the biggest role of his NBA career this year with the Knicks, and it will be interesting to see how he adjusts. He has all the skills to be a primary ball handler but hasn’t had the best chance to display them alongside Luka Doncic in Dallas. With the Knicks, he’ll have a much higher usage rate and volume of shots. The biggest question is whether he’ll be able to keep up his efficiency despite the increased volume.

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James Valentinas is a 17-year-old Cubs, Knicks, and Bears fan who loves to write about his favorite teams.