Jalen Brunson is the Knicks’ best playmaker. He has to make sure the ball gets spread around to everyone.

Can you name a better trio than the Villanova teammates currently propelling the New York Knicks to a top-three seed in the Eastern Conference?

Perhaps the Golden Girls, the Three Stooges, or the Beastie Boys matchup with the pop culture iconography that Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo and Josh Hart currently embody in New York sports lore. They have stolen the hearts and minds of Knicks fans and NBA fans to the point where night in and night out, you might come across fans of rival teams giving in to the power of friendship that those three use to power themselves and the team. 

Allow me to take this love fest down just a small peg. 

I cannot take credit for this discovery that pertains to Jalen Brunson’s passing. The Knicks Wall crew typically discusses the game as it is ongoing and, in one of the Knicks’ most recent contests, the topic of Brunson’s affinity for passing to his “Nova Boys” compared to his passing to other teammates on the floor, came up. 

It’s something I had never really noticed before. It’s hard to see what’s “bad” or maybe inefficient about feeding an above-league-average three-point shooter in DiVincenzo or a perfect connector in Hart. But Brunson definitely has a preference in how he disperses his 6.7 assists per game. That can occasionally lead to some pretty skewed results. On the one hand, DiVincenzo has been shooting lights out, so it’s good to keep feeding him the rock. On the other hand, the likes of Deuce McBride, Bojan Bogdanovic, Isaiah Hartenstein or OG Anunoby could use the reps. This is especially important for two reasons. 

Firstly, the Knicks have to get into a pretty good rhythm offensively to match their elite defense ahead of the postseason. While they can compete with anyone defensively with Anunoby on the floor disrupting, well, everything, they can oftentimes find themselves in a slump with Jalen Brunson off the floor and looking for consistent scoring. 

The second, possibly more glaring reason is the lack of Julius Randle this postseason. Randle has opted to end his season with shoulder surgery after re-injuring it during a contact practice as a part of his rehab for his dislocated shoulder. So, his force at the rack as well as his ability as a connector like Hart will be sorely missed. Additionally, his work in pick-and-roll actions and as an off-ball threat alongside Brunson will be something New York has to replicate with others like Anunoby or with Brunson himself to find some success in movement on offense. 

According to NBA Stats, when filtering out for time Randle missed after his injury back in January, the top Knicks players receiving passes from Brunson are DiVincenzo and Hart. DiVincenzo averages 27.6 percent of Brunson’s passes per game while Hart sits close by at 27.4 per game. 

The next closest Knick is Hartenstein, which makes sense considering his cutting prowess and how well he works alongside Brunson in give-and-go actions. He receives 13.4 percent of the guard’s passes, a rate significantly lower than those of the Nova Boys but understandably so since he doesn’t shoot many jumpers. Where things get interesting in a bad way are passes to those who can make those types of shots. McBride is getting 8.8 percent of Brunson’s dimes, and Bogdanovic receives 4.3 percent of them. Anunoby, who has been out for a bit since being traded to the Knicks, receives 2.2 percent.

Postseason defenses are going to be tough. They will be able to pick up on Brunson’s favorites on the floor, as it were, and that can make things sticky for an offense that will be looking to capitalize on Brunson’s presence on the floor to ensure that a McBride-led bench can survive those non-Brunson minutes. McBride is one of the more glaring omissions from the top of Brunson’s preferred passing target list considering he has upped his shooting percentages across the board, getting so much better not only in his finishing ability but also as a three-point shooter. 

Bogdanovic was included in the Knicks’ trade deadline move because he is such a postseason threat. As he finally looks like he has found his footing on offense, Brunson should be looking to incorporate his shooting more as an effective spreader and as someone who, like Randle, could genuinely take pressure off of Brunson in terms of other teams’ defense against him. 

This is both a non-concern and a big one. As previously mentioned, DiVincenzo is no slouch offensively, so you cannot really be upset to see him getting touches and attention from Brunson. Hart, on the other hand, is such an excellent middleman on offense as a passer that incorporating him as much as possible in the absence of another great passer like Randle is imperative to keeping this offense chugging along. 

But tough postseason basketball awaits. They all will be guarded heavily if opposing teams have done their homework. Jalen Brunson will have to spread the Villanova friendship vibes beyond just those two for the entire club to find longevity and potentially play spoiler these playoffs.

Related Content

»Read: Ranking First-Round Matchups for the Knicks 

»Read: Miles McBride: Master Screen Navigator

»Read: Questions Asked and Answered by March Madness