Jalen Brunson is uniquely suited to give the Knicks what they’ve needed for years: a point guard who can stay on the floor. Tyler Marko and Ray Brenkert dive into why that is.
Alec Burks, Immanuel Quickley, Kemba Walker, Derrick Rose, Elfrid Payton, Frank Ntilikina. In the past two seasons alone, the New York Knicks have had six players start at point guard, and the further back you go – the more names you rattle off – the uglier it gets. In hopes of stopping this revolving door at the position, Team President Leon Rose ponied up and signed former Dallas Maverick and Villanova alum, Jalen Brunson, to a four-year, $104 million deal.
Brunson will be 26 years old when the season begins; it will be his fifth NBA season. Last season, Brunson was able to establish himself as Luka Doncic’s main running-mate, averaging 16.3 points and 4.8 assists while posting a 50.2/37.3/84% shooting line. However, it was Brunson’s postseason performance with Doncic out that seemingly secured a contract of this scale. In the three first games against the Utah Jazz during the first round of this year’s playoffs, Brunson scored 24, 41, and 31 points respectively, carrying Dallas to wins in the second and third matchups which helped them put Utah away in six games. His performance not only ensured the Knicks’ interest in signing him to a big deal but also set the stage for Utah’s teardown and potentially Donovan Mitchell’s arrival in New York.
His playoff performance not only showed an ability to rise to the moment on a bigger stage but also his potential to flourish in a larger role. With the Knicks, he’ll initiate the offense rather than serve as a secondary ball-handler to Doncic. Even if Mitchell comes to the Knicks, neither he, R.J. Barrett, nor Julius Randle would carry the same sort of offensive load as Doncic has the last few years. Only Joel Embiid (37.5%) had a higher usage rate than Doncic (36.8%) last season, Mitchell (32.2%) was ranked 7th, but besides not being on the team yet, he also doesn’t shoulder the same sort of playmaking duties as Doncic.
Fans can expect to see Brunson out there leading the offenses most nights, especially because his sound fundamental mechanics should keep him on the floor. Knicks Wall contributor and sports performance and movement coach Ray Brenkert loves what he sees in Brunson’s game. All the correct joints are in a line on his landings, pivots, and drives, meaning that while never fully eliminated, the risk of Brunson suffering any lower body injuries – be they nagging or catastrophic – is drastically reduced.
Additionally, his leg movements allow for an optimal energy transfer on his jump shot. Where some players’ knees buckle in as they bend before widening out, Brunson’s start off wide and come together. This motion generates more force behind the ball, allowing Brunson to get a higher arc on his jumper – a necessity as he’s only 6’1” tall (emphasis Brenkert).
Brenkert would like to see Brunson make a couple of small tweaks to his landings, namely making an effort to land on two feet rather than one on his fadeaways, as well as keeping his feet straight on his stepbacks. Both these would help reduce the stress on his lower body joints, but Brenkert insists that these are minor issues, mostly because the rest of his mechanics are so on point.
His only concern comes back to Brunson’s size, but not for the reason you might think. As a smaller guard, every drive to the rim becomes hazardous as he gets bumped around by larger defenders, though it seems likely that Brunson often falls to the floor not to sell the contact, but rather to distribute the impact of said contact across a wider area. Yet for Brenkert, this also opens up Brunson to the possibility of injuring another part of his body as he falls to the floor, similar to Cam Reddish’s season-ending shoulder injury.
These are nitpicks amid a much larger sample of excellent biomechanics for Brunson. Availability is the best ability and for longer than any Knicks fan would like to think about, the Knicks have not had any point guard available. Often the team was left either forcing a player who would be better suited elsewhere into that role or overtaxing a player like Derrick Rose before losing them altogether. With Brunson, the Knicks have a point guard, one who missed 17 games in the last two years (three last season), has played his best basketball in the postseason, and has shown the ability to coexist with a superstar or take the reins himself.