By NBA Draft definition, Jalen Brunson, selected in the second round (33rd overall) in 2018 by the Dallas Mavericks, shouldn’t be the Knicks’ best player. That designation should belong to RJ Barrett, who was taken No. 3 by the Knicks in the following draft. However, based on the results, the jury is out on Barrett’s ceiling and being a cornerstone player for the franchise.
Conversely, Brunson has shouldered the pressure of coming to New York and adeptly filling the Knicks’ point guard position, which has been the weakest spot for the franchise for well over a decade. Players such as Shane Larkin, Langston Galloway, Brandon Jennings, Elfrid Payton and Frank Ntilikia were unable to cement themselves as long-term lead guards.
Now Brunson, who signed a four-year, $104 million free-agent deal this past summer, has played at an All-Star level. When the Knicks faced the Detroit Pistons on the road on Tuesday night, the 26-year-old Brunson was averaging 21.8 points, 6.7 assists and 3.8 rebounds in 20 games. The Knicks were 9-11 prior to meeting the Pistons and were back at Madison Square Garden last night (Wednesday) to host the Milwaukee Bucks.
Brunson, the son of former Knick point-guard Rick Brunson, a current assistant with the team under head coach Tom Thibodeau, has had flashes of brilliance. At the start of the Knicks’ schedule this week, the two-time NCAA champion and 2018 national college player of the year for Villanova, was averaging career-bests in points, assists, minutes (33.1) and free-throw percentage (89.9), while efficiently shooting 49% from the field. He was tied for fifth with Bernard King and Stephon Marbury for the most 25-plus point games by a Knick in their first 20, including 30 or more points in his previous three games prior to playing the Pistons.
Brunson’s competitive nature was evident in the Knicks’ losses at the Garden to the Portland Trail Blazers (132-129) last Friday—an overtime defeat—and the Memphis Grizzlies (127-123) on Sunday. Brunson missed potential game-winning shots in the final seconds versus both teams as he kept the Knicks close in those games with remarkable shot making, a skill he has displayed all season.
“Two shots that I’ve made a lot of in my career. And I just rushed ‘em. Plain and simple, just rushed it,” said Brunson of his misses against Portland and Memphis
“My teammates and coaches have a lot of trust in me…and that hurts when I can’t pull through for them. That hurts.”
“Take your shot. That’s his bread and butter, he got where he wanted to be,” said Thibodeau after the loss to the Grizzlies, who were led by the incredible Ja Morant’s 27 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists.
It’s still a small sample size, but all signs are positive that the Knicks have finally resolved their point guard issues.