Despite a nearly 50-year NBA championship drought, hope springs eternal for the New York Knicks.
Knicks fans have time and time again gone back-and-forth between “this season is our season” and “next season is our season” that while it does sound like a broken record, one has to feel bad for the fanbase and hope for some sustainable success.
Part of that boundless optimism has come from the arrival of promising players and coaches with previous success in other teams. But unfortunately, those successes have not exactly translated to the same thing for New York, which is the second-most valuable NBA franchise after the defending NBA champions Golden State Warriors.
Since 2000, the Knicks have made the NBA Playoffs six times and have only gone past the first round twice. Part of it also comes with the frequent turnover within the roster and even in the front office. That kind of instability can scare prospective free agents, but not Jalen Brunson.
After four seasons with the Dallas Mavericks, Brunson moved to the Eastern Conference’s most valuable team, where the bright lights and the big city that accompanies New York awaited him. The former Villanova Wildcat deserves props for being willing to face one of the toughest media and playing environments in basketball and perhaps even all of sports. 18 games in, Brunson seems to have fit in nicely.
Brunson’s penchant for the midrange and bullying his way on the post certainly endears him to fans who embraced the physicality of the Knicks of the 90s. Beyond his own individual contributions, it’s the 33rd overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft’s ability to get others involved that keeps him above the bare minimum for Knicks point guards of the past. Much of that was on display in a 129-119 win against the Oklahoma City Thunder, a win that also evened New York’s record to 9-9.
Steady may have been the apt word to describe Brunson’s performance, as he finished with game-highs of 34 points (on 70 percent shooting from the field) and nine assists. He was consistently backing down on the Thunder backcourt and punishing the defense when Brunson would catch them falling asleep. That steady and consistent presence is something very much welcome in a Knicks squad that continues to search for an answer to their hopes and dreams.
The additional touches and the increased pressure of playing in a large market haven’t seemed to bother Brunson, who is currently averaging career-highs across the board (20.8 points, 6.7 assists, and 1.2 steals). The 26-year old’s time with the Mavericks certainly helped him prepare for this, as there were instances Brunson had to step in for Luka Doncic even in the biggest of stages. Moreover, Brunson is a two-time NCAA champion who was not only the 2018 National Player of the Year, but also a consensus first-team All-American. With that in mind, it won’t be an uncommon sight to see him carry the team on most nights and find other ways to help hand New York victories even when his shot isn’t falling.
Brunson, who has never missed 10 or more regular season games in his career, has thankfully avoided a major injury that would sideline him for a long period of time. His 2019-2020 season may have been cut short by surgery to repair a labrum injury in his right shoulder, but the New Jersey native has averaged in double figures and on average made more than 50 percent of his field goals in the seasons that followed that procedure.
The New York Knicks have a storied history when it comes to guards, while the city of New York boasts a proud tradition of producing guards. Jalen Brunson has a chance to join the former and nearly a quarter into the 2022-2023 NBA Season, but this early into his Knicks tenure, he has already given the city of New York some newfound hope.