With Brunson aboard, Knicks feel they have their point guard
Jalen Brunson has the New York Knicks believing the search for a point guard is over at last.
Never mind that he was never even a full-time NBA starter until last season, or that the quest to find the long-term answer at point guard in New York seemingly never ends.
The former second-round pick has the keys at Madison Square Garden, and the Knicks appear sure it's going to be a smooth ride.
“I think Jalen can provide whatever you need,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “So if you need him to do more scoring, he can do that. If you need more playmaking, he can do that. If you need him to create pace and create movement, he can do that. You need a big 3, a big shot, he can do that. I love the way he can control and manage the game, and to me that’s the No. 1 function of a point guard.”
Thibodeau said all that after coaching Brunson for just one preseason game, though he had been building intel on the 26-year-old long before then. Brunson would visit the Knicks as a boy in the late 1990s when his father, Rick, played for the team and Thibodeau was an assistant coach. Thibodeau later followed Brunson's accomplishments in high school ball in the Chicago area, where he coached the Bulls, and then as a two-time national champion at Villanova.
So perhaps Thibodeau knew something when the Knicks seemed to lock in so early on Brunson as their priority in free agency, even before his strong playoff run for the Mavericks last season.
“He’s a winning player that would fit with any team, really, at any level,” said Rick Carlisle, who coached Brunson in Dallas before moving to Indiana. “He just figures it out and he’ll be great here.”
Brunson broke out last season after Jason Kidd replaced Carlisle, averaging a career-best 16.3 points. That number grew to 21.6 per game in the postseason, including a 41-point performance in a first-round victory over Utah, as the Mavericks made a surprising run to the Western Conference finals. The New Jersey native then left Dallas for a $104 million contract in New York.
Brunson — whose father is on Thibodeau's staff — will need help, though. RJ Barrett, rewarded with a big offseason extension, must continue the growth he showed last season. And Julius Randle has to play closer to his 2020-21 form, when he won the NBA's Most Improved Player award.
If so, the Knicks could challenge for a playoff spot after falling from the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference in 2021 to out of the postseason entirely last season — provided Brunson is everything they believe he is and the game manager Thibodeau thinks he can be.
“It's a difficult job, but it's something that I think I'm capable of doing,” Brunson said. “I've been a leader my entire life and I lead by example, I lead vocally. It's not easy. I'm continuing to get better as a leader, so I still have strides to take in that category, but we're moving in the right direction.”
With Brunson, Randle and Barrett, the Knicks will have three left-handed players in their starting lineup.
Barrett was mentioned in trade rumors for Donovan Mitchell during the summer before the Knicks signed the the No. 3 pick in the 2019 draft to an extension of his rookie contract. He averaged 20 points last season, the youngest player in franchise history to do so.
Derrick Rose is healthy again after being limited to just 26 games last season by ankle injuries, and the former NBA MVP figures to be Brunson's backup at the point.
SECOND UNIT STRENGTH
With Rose, fan-favorite Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley, joined by newcomer Isaiah Hartenstein, Thibodeau believes the Knicks can again get the bench boost that was a strength of their playoff team two seasons ago.
This season will mark 50 years since the Knicks won their second and most recent NBA championship in 1973.