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Player Preview: Jalen Brunson came to command and conquer

Are we talking about the best New York Knicks point guard since the 70s?

2023 New York Knicks Media Day Photo by Michael J. LeBrecht II/NBAE via Getty Images

Let’s be honest for a minute. What is to preview about Brunson?

Last summer the Knicks inked the little, sturdy-but-swift point guard to a four-year deal. Brunson had played 302 games (regular and post-season) in the NBA then, starting less than half of them.

I was the first man on Earth to say he was a super-sub and I also doubted his chops at leading a team even though he did nearly for a full season (and 18 games in the playoffs). Perhaps it was just that Luka Doncic was shining so brightly next to him that he prevented me from seeing and realizing how Brunson’s luminance was equally great.

Turns out all I needed was to watch Brunson the catalyst, not Brunson the synergist. And oh boy, did he take that role and rose to the stratosphere.

You already know about it because you’ve been watching New York Knickerbockers basketball. Brunson has been labeled everything from the best free-agent acquisition ever pulled off by the Knicks to an underrated player, to the best active ballhandler, to a leader, to a head coach in the making. Seriously, you name it.

And you’ll probably be right in your assessment. So good has been Brunson during his time in Manhattan, now barely past the one-year mark.

It wasn’t long ago that we were debating who the franchise player of the Knicks was. The veteran but maddening unreliable Julius Randle, who arrived in town following stints at Los Angeles and New Orleans? The promising and sleepy RJ Barrett, who can still end up being the best top-3 pick of the class of 2019?

Good for us, those debates are no more.

Brunson “only” played 68 games last season between October and April, getting a bunch of inactive during the last month of play heading into the playoffs. JB started all postseason games (11 of them) played by the Knicks in 2023, five against the Cavs and six against the Heat.

All Brunson did last season, his first one clad in a New York uniform, was putting up career-high numbers in points (24), steals (0.9), blocks (0.2), and dimes (6.2) per game as well as getting close to breaking that barrier in rebounds (3.5).

Brunson got to shoot the ball way more than ever before, going from 12.8 FGA in his last season in Dallas to a monster 17.6 FGA with the Knicks. Best of all? His accuracy only dropped a hair, from 50.2% in 2022 to 49.1% in 2023. That said, it must be mentioned that he also hit 4.8 freebies a pop compared to 2.3 the year before.

The little point guard was phenomenal when the stakes were at their highest in April and May. Brunson topped his regular-season points-per-game average to the tune of 27.8, dished out 5.6 assists per contest, pulled down 4.9 postseason boards, and committed 1.5 thefts each game.

He was named Player of the Week once. He was February’s Player of the Month, yet for some reason he missed on making his first All-Star game (it’s coming, don’t worry). He got some MVP and All-NBA votes when all was said and done.

And then, earlier this week (s/o Zach Braziller of the New York Post) and ramping up for what is to come, all Brunson said was “I don’t want to be satisfied.”

Quoth JB: “I don’t dwell on the past.”

Want more ruthlessness from the former Nova champ? Take it: “I don’t have any championship rings at the house from college, [high school]... l don’t have anything,” he said. “The National Player of the Year awards, all that stuff—that stuff’s at my parents' house because I don’t want to reflect on that.”

Locked. Loaded. And more than ever, rightfully lauded. Brunson