Jalen Brunson Is The NBA Star That Will Propel The Knicks To New Heights

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Published by NYSB Staff
Last Updated: 02. Feb 2024.

The New York Knicks knew they were acquiring a budding NBA superstar when the franchise inked free agent Jalen Brunson last year. But the talented point guard, the son of Knicks assistant coach Rick Brunson, has exceeded expectations and elevated New York to a perennial playoff contender.

A Game to Remember

Brunson caught fire in a 139-122 upset victory over the Phoenix Suns. The 27-year-old dropped 50 points to become the ninth player in franchise history to achieve the feat. It was also the Knicks' first victory over Kevin Durant since the 2012-13 season when he suited up for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The former Villanova standout was a perfect 9-of-9 from behind the arc and joined Kyrie Irving as the only two players in league history to score at least 50 points while not missing a 3-point shot. However, Brunson was happy to notch the win alongside his historic performance.

Leadership & Focus

"I had no idea," Brunson said about his flawless three-point shooting. "I was just playing free. It's cool. I'm just happy about the win. That's all I care about."

While Brunson acknowledged it was a special night for him, his focus remained on the future and the growth of the team.

"It means a lot," the New Jersey native said after the game. "But, I mean, I try to focus on continuing to get better. We've got a long way to go. This is a good night, but we've got to bounce back and get ready for tomorrow."

Thibodeau's Light-Hearted Praise

New York head coach Tom Thibodeau praised his floor general while jokingly throwing shade at his assistant coach, who finished his NBA career averaging 3.2 points per game.

"The way he shot the ball was special," Thibodeau said. "I told his father, 'He had your career in one night.' It’s great, you want your players to achieve all the things they want to achieve but you want them to do it in the context of winning."

How Brunson Became a Knick

How Brunson arrived in the Big Apple to rescue a struggling Knicks franchise has all the makings of a made-for-television drama. The Dallas Mavericks selected the 6-foot-2 playmaker in the second round of the 2018 NBA draft, and he averaged 11.6 points over four seasons.

The Mavericks missed an opportunity to re-sign Brunson on a team-friendly deal before the 2022 season. Dallas was reluctant to pay their point guard after he averaged eight points in a seven-game loss to the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2021 playoffs.

"Dallas could have signed Brunson to a four-year extension for as much as $55.5 million before the season, but the Mavs didn't offer it then, nor did they engage in negotiations with Brunson's representatives," Tim MacMahon of ESPN wrote.

It was a bad decision that Mavericks owner Mark Cuban would later regret. Brunson enjoyed a breakout season in 2022-23 with career-highs in points (16.3) and assists (4.8). But he was even better in the playoffs.

Brunson shot 48% from the field and averaged 29 points per game against the Utah Jazz in the opening round of the playoffs. The former college national champion posted a career-high 41 points in Game 2 and dropped 31 points in Game 3. The impending free agent was no longer interested in a team-friendly contract.

Brunson's First Impressions as a Knick

New York signed Brunson to a four-year, $104 million contract to become the face of the franchise. He explained in his first press conference with the Knicks why he departed Dallas in free agency.

"I've known for a long time. It's family," said Brunson. "It's a comfort level to this and something that I just couldn't turn a blind eye to. I know that these guys have my best interests at heart, and I think Leon probably saw me before my dad did, so it's just one big family for me and I'm just super excited."

Although Brunson did not allow the Mavericks to match the Knicks' offer, he admitted it wasn't an easy decision to leave the Lone Star State.

"For the longest time, I thought I'd never leave Dallas. I thought Dallas was my home for my entire career," said Brunson. "It's a great place, a place that I really wanted to be, and I'm so thankful that they took a chance on me. It was definitely tough. I'm going to miss my teammates. That organization's special. The relationships that I made, it was really special, so I'm definitely going to miss it."

The Cost of Acquiring Brunson

The Knicks did lose their 2025 second-round pick as a result of the NBA's investigation into the team's signing of Brunson this summer.

"This outcome reflected a finding, following an investigation, that the Knicks engaged in free agency discussions involving Jalen Brunson prior to the date when such discussions were permitted," the NBA said in a statement announcing the decision.

But all of the drama surrounding his departure from the Mavericks is in the past. Brunson has solidified himself as one of the league's top point guards with his play in a Knicks uniform.

"I think the crazy part about it was — he was hot, obviously, but it wasn't like crazy," teammate RJ Barrett said. "It was just regular shots he takes every night. He just ended up making all of them."

The historic performance also did not go unnoticed by Durant, who praised the Knicks for their willingness to share the basketball.

"That's his franchise," Durant said. "They all support him. They put in sets for him, they run plays for him. When he gets hot, they continue to give him the ball. And he's going to be a Hall of Fame player by the end of his career the way he's playing out there."

Looking to the Future

While it is too early to know if Brunson is on a path to the Hall of Fame, the Knicks will be thrilled if their point guard has the team on course for its second straight trip to the playoffs.

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