Jalen Brunson has been hit with the injury bug recently. Not having him healthy during the Playoffs could spell disaster for the Knicks.
At 23.8 points per game and 6.2 assists per game, per ESPN Stats, Jalen Brunson is having a career year in his first season in the Big Apple after signing a four-year, $104 million contract last offseason. The 26-year-old has filled a void that the New York Knicks have had for decades — their inability to find a legitimate point guard is by now the stuff of legend. Stat sheet aside, Brunson is, simply put, a dog, one who plays with a level of toughness that embodies the city of New York. W
hile being a grinder, Brunson is also a super savvy and intelligent player who makes everyone around him better and has an immeasurable impact on winning. Julius Randle and Tom Thibodeau most notably have greatly benefited from JB being here and have, seemingly, saved their Knicks careers.
Recently, Brunson has been dealing with minor injuries to his hand and foot, which have resulted in him being in and out of the lineup in March. With JB hobbled, the Knicks, to nobody’s surprise, have backslid a little bit, losing games to inferior teams like the Magic and Hornets. Watching the games, the Knicks have sometimes reverted back to their old ways prior to this year; often looking discombobulated and not playing within themselves. This was most notably on display when they lost an important game to Miami last week, who are chasing the Knicks in the standings (and whom Brunson helped defeat last night).
To truly see the impact of how valuable someone is to a team, you just need to observe how that team operates when they are absent. Brunson evidently has been sorely missed by Dallas, who, with an even more talented point guard in Kyrie Irving and superstar Luka Doncic, are struggling to make the play-in tournament in the weaker Western Conference. The Mavs look ridiculously out of sorts and have been wildly up and down with their performances night-to-night. A calming presence like Brunson would solve a lot of the Mavs’ issues and probably make Doncic, Jason Kidd, and co. happier than enigmatic Kyrie.
On a smaller scale, the Knicks are 6-5 this season without Brunson, per Stat Muse, and are averaging 114.5 points per game while he’s sidelined while shooting 45.4% from the field, both below their season averages. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand how important Brunson means to the Knicks.
Jalen Brunson in the first half:— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) March 2, 2023
30 PTS (career-high for a half)
Check out his bucket to end the half⤵️ pic.twitter.com/qQRxGUosWQ
One specific glaring example of JB’s impact is Julius Randle’s temperament. As we’ve all seen by now, Randle lost his mind on the referee and IQ because he was so frustrated in the Orlando game. Randle has played more freely and with less negative emotion this season, which is why he’s been having an incredible season. Credit to the forward for getting his mental right, but I believe a lot of his success can be at least partially attributed to Brunson keeping him happy on the floor, putting him in a position to succeed individually, while also helping the winning cause. We don’t know exactly what Brunson says to Randle behind closed doors or even on the court, but having a steadying presence has worked wonders for his game.
Bridging the Gap
Having a more-than-competent backup in Immanuel Quickley has been a prime reason why the Knicks haven’t fallen off the face of the earth in Brunson’s 11 games missed. IQ in his last 10 games has averaged 18.3 points per game, per ESPN Stats, including a 40-piece against the Rockets. Quickley provides everything you want from a backup guard: solid shooting, defense, and energy, and overall has developed into a crucial piece for this Knicks team. But being only 23 years old and less experienced than Brunson, IQ expectedly doesn’t provide the same tone-setting and leadership that JB brings to the table.
GOOD MORNING TO EVERYONE BUT ESPECIALLY @IQ_GodSon pic.twitter.com/wVAkeXqttr— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) March 28, 2023
This is no knock on IQ, who is excellent in his role and should win Sixth Man of the Year, but you lose some juice towards the end of games having the more inexperienced Quickley, as opposed to Brunson, who has been there done that on many levels of basketball, including his incredible playoff performance last year while a member of the Dallas Mavericks. You can bring up the most recent Celtics victory as evidence of Quickley being able to close games against great teams but while that was a memorable performance, I’m not sure he can do it consistently yet in the postseason.
Losing three of their last four, the Knicks have a slim chance of moving anywhere ahead of the five-seed in the Eastern Conference, which likely puts them in position to square off against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round.
New York has taken two of three from Cleveland thus far this season and have one more matchup on the docket on Friday. Jalen Brunson has not played that well against the Cavs this season, averaging only 17.7 points per game, with the Knicks a -6 with him out there, per Stat Muse. Having said that, if Brunson for some reason can’t get right by the playoffs, the Knicks are at a point guard disadvantage with IQ going up against All-Star Darius Garland. The last time the Knicks went into the playoffs with a less talented point guard, they were run off the floor as Derrick Rose couldn’t provide the same offense and impact as Trae Young.
Even looking at just the previous couple of NBA Finals, the team with the PG advantage usually wins the series with Golden State (Steph Curry) over Boston (Smart) and Milwaukee (Jrue Holiday) over Phoenix (aging Chris Paul). If Brunson is not himself in time for the postseason, I don’t believe the Knicks will be able to compete with the Cavaliers and this could be a short series. With Brunson there and healthy, there is a decent chance we see an upset in the first round.
»Read: It’s Time for Tom Thibodeau to Add Miles McBride Back to the Rotation
»Read: Lessons from the Knicks’ West Coast Trip