The season’s only just begun, so the sample sizes across the league are small. But that shouldn’t take away from the immediate impact Jalen Brunson has had on this New York Knicks squad.
I haven’t bore witness to some of the backcourt members of this franchise dating back to the early 2000s, so understand when I say Brunson is the best backcourt player I’ve seen play for this team. For instance, consider that the Knicks were dead last in assists per game in the league last year at 21.9 per game. And it’s not like they started off hot in any way… they were bottom of the pack for much of the year as soon as the season started.
Brunson, while not the only catalyst for this, is certainly one of the primary reasons the Knicks are averaging 27 assists per game in the early going.
He’s hardly six-foot-tall and Brunson has shown insane signs of life at a position that’s been so deprived for decades.
He hit a shot against the Orlando Magic that had me sitting there admiring his skills and feeling a sense of calm knowing the Knicks have a player who can generate offense even when the play dies.
This was an And-1, by the way. Thinking back to even just the last few seasons, there isn’t a point guard the Knicks have had that’s been able to confidently take this shot, let alone make it. Kemba Walker and Elfrid Payton pale in comparison to Brunson.
He’s come out of the gates a blazing ball of fire, despite having a bit of trouble with fouls and the like. And not just with his crafty shot-making, but with his shot-creation for his teammates.
Brunson is immediately blanketed by Cole Anthony at an awkward position of the backcourt, uses the behind the back dribble to evade him, draws RJ Hampton out of position to block the paint while Randle coasts his way to the rim, receives the slight no look pass for an unhindered dunk.
Brunson realizes the play is dead along the base line with Adams lying in wait, picks his head up to see Evan Fournier shifting across the three-point line ready to shoot, and dishes the ball into his comfort zone. Fournier has to pump fake, which works, but he’s still in a position that’s easier for himself to rise up and complete the shot.
Randle tips this, but Brunson secures the offensive rebound and immediately acknowledges the open paint Isaiah Hartenstein has. Brunson bounce passes it to a comfortable height, Hart secures the rock and rises for the And-1 layup. This type of play is fumbled hard by any other point guard in the last five years.
Dishin’ and swishin’
Brunson has evidently developed a rapport with his teammates already, which will be huge going forward, per Basketball Reference.
Of the nine two-man lineups Brunson is a part of, he’s rocking the scoreboard with Hartenstein as his partner. But Barrett and Randle are also helping Brunson produce at a high clip so far this season.
I want to highlight Randle, though, as I’ve noticed a trend has begun to develop between the two.
It didn’t happen much, if at all, against the Pistons, but Brunson has used Randle as a screener a few times at the top of the key and immediately dumps the ball off to him in his area of expertise. Randle hits a mildly contested fade-away jump shot over Brandon Clarke as Tyus Jones struggles to help defend knowing Brunson is ready to receive a pass if need be.
Here, Randle screens and immediately slips it to attack the paint, ultimately knocking down a floater — something we haven’t seen much in his arsenal throughout his career. In the second half, Brunson and Randle executed the same exact play design against Orlando.
Brunson has used this with Mitchell Robinson and Hartenstein as well, but to different ends. Robinson is a much more lethal vertical threat, so he’s gotten a couple of lobs out of this action, whereas Hart is low to the ground and has shown evidence of having a reliable floater from below the free throw line.
Though Brunson is taking 40% of his shots in the short mid area, per Cleaning the Glass, he’s still able to generate something when the defense adapts to him getting to the paint, and that’s valuable as hell. Randle appears to be benefitting from this as well, as his shooting accuracy has been higher across the board to start the season. Per Cleaning the Glass, his USG% has dropped by 5.6% already and his AST% has dropped by nearly 10% as he is clearly being utilized in a less ball dominant way. He’s looked incredible as an off-ball threat thus far.
More work to be done
The 2-1 Knicks square off against the Charlotte Hornets on 10/26 at 7:30 PM, EST.
This is likely to be an interesting matchup, especially with former Knick, Dennis Smith Jr., in the cut without LaMelo Ball at the helm. Terry Rozier is still considered questionable for the contest. The Knicks are -7.5 point favorites; the line for the spread is -110 and their money line is -320, for reference. All signs point to New York taking this win in stride, but you can never be too sure, right?
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