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Breaking down Jalen Brunson’s sudden increase in assist numbers

Point guard masterclass with the new lineup

Chicago Bulls v New York Knicks Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Despite his stellar play and increasing national attention, one of the biggest criticisms against Jalen Brunson has always been the questions surrounding his playmaking and there have been reasons for those concerns. Brunson has always been a solid passer, capable of making most passes that a point guard should be able to, and you can say the same about his court vision too. But he’s never been a true elite floor general, one that was going out and dishing out double-digit assists on a nightly basis like a Trae Young or Tyrese Haliburton. And for the most part, that was okay. Brunson has been one of the best things to ever happen to this franchise and it’s been clear that the team has badly needed him to be a score first guard. But things may be changing ever so slightly.

Brunson, who has averaged just over six assists per game during his tenure as a Knick, is currently averaging 11 assists per game in his three games since the team shipped out RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley. Needless to say, it is a very small sample size, but the are a handful of changes that have led some to believe that we could continue to see his assist number trend in a positive direction.

The first of these changes is how often Brunson gets the ball now. Before the aforementioned trade, Brunson was averaging 36MPG and averaging 86.5 touches per game during those minutes. Meanwhile, since the trade, the Knicks’ point guard is averaging just under 40MPG and averaging 99 touches per game. Obviously, the increase in minutes has led to more touches, which often will lead to more counting stats like assists.

But the trends don’t end there. Another thing we’ve seen shoot up is the sheer number of passes that Brunson, and the team as a whole, have been making. As a byproduct of Barrett’s departure, we’ve seen the ball move more than it ever has, and it seems like the entire team is making a more conscious effort to improve and increase ball movement. Again, it’s a small sample size, but the ball just seems to be moving a lot more and consequently, sticking a lot less, and it’s led to a way more fun and effective brand of basketball. Prior to the trade, Brunson was averaging 58.9 passes per game and 11.6 potential assists per game, but in his last three games, Brunson is averaging 66.7 passes per game and 17.7 potential assists per game.

Now, many believed that Brunson’s responsibilities on the offensive end would increase with Barrett, and Quickley, both of whom got some decent run handling the ball, gone, but it’s pretty safe to say that nobody thought that it’d go this far. And luckily for the Knicks and their fans, it looks like something that’ll be here to stay. Clearly, the 11APG will be difficult to sustain, and the same can be said about his 39MPG. At some point, Donte DiVincenzo will cool off, and there’s a chance that OG Anunoby, and whoever the Knicks potentially add before the trade deadline becomes at least a little bit more involved offensively, not to mention that his minutes, at least hopefully, will come down at some point.

But, if the new starting lineup, which has been demolishing teams, can stay healthy, this could really be a deadly recipe for success. DiVincenzo and Anunoby’s unique and fun combination of shooting and cutting creates numerous assist opportunities for Brunson on a nightly basis, and while Brunson and Randle don’t link up as often as they maybe should, with the way Randle is playing, it’s made Brunson’s job a lot easier. You then add Isaiah Hartenstein, whose screening and rolling opens up a few more opportunities, as does Josh Hart’s ability to get out in open transition. All in all, the new and current iteration of the Knicks’ roster, despite still having its clear flaws, makes a lot more sense and the players all seem to be thriving off of each other, as evidenced by the starting lineup’s insane offensive rating of 130.9 in the 38 minutes they’ve played with each other. And thus far, it’s looking like Brunson and his playmaking may be the biggest benefiter.