Examining the Knicks’ Jalen Brunson signing, one year later

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Jalen Brunson

Jalen Brunson / USA TODAY Sports/SNY Treated Image

We’re now a little over a year removed from arguably the most pivotal move of the Leon Rose era: the signing of Jalen Brunson.

At the time, the move had mixed but tempered reviews, yet, just one season later, now shines as Rose’s crowning achievement and the franchise’s best acquisition in over a decade.

The 2021-22 season was a disaster for the Knicks, falling well short of the playoffs after a surprise run the year prior. Assumed upgrades like Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier disappointed, marking close to a decade’s worth of no dependability at the starting point guard position.

New York needed to make a splash having played it patiently to this point and went on a full-court press pursuit of Brunson. They hired his father as an assistant coach, attended his postseason games, and offered him more money than anybody on the open market.

This was all for a second-round pick who slowly developed year after year before breaking out in 2022 with a massive postseason run. Even with his flashes on that stage, many didn’t view him as a top flight starting option, calling him unproven, diminutive and a beneficiary of playing off Luka Doncic.

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The naysayers were proven wrong and Rose and the Knicks proven right quickly. From training camp, the team highlighted Brunson’s leadership and culture fit and that was before he even stepped on the court in the blue and orange.

What followed was a terrific season in New York: 24 points and 6.2 assists a night on 51.9 percent shooting from two and 41.6 percent from three. He was one of only nine players with those averages in 2022-23, and one of the more efficient of the bunch.

The numbers don’t do his performance justice. Brunson acted as floor general and alpha scorer depending on what was needed at a given moment on a nightly basis.

He was easily the most dependable and consistent Knick, never losing composure on a rare off night and constantly coming through in the clutch. Brunson finished atop the league in crunch time output, while maintaining his marksmanship in the toughest moments.

But it wasn’t until Brunson tapped into his high-powered offensive potential that the Knicks really took off. After the New Year Brunson averaged 27.8 points on even better shooting, stringing together 30- and 40-point games with ease.

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This production carried over to the playoffs, where New York captured its first series win in a decade, in large part thanks to Brunson. He opened up the first round against Cleveland snatching a road victory behind 27 points and some big shots down the stretch.

The Knicks cruised passed the Cavs with Brunson scoring 20 or more in each game, including 29 points on 22 shots in Game 4. But Miami, an eventual Finals team, awaited them in the second round. 

Brunson rose to the challenge, scoring over 30 points in four of six games, and all but carrying his team on his back facing the wall. Down 2-1 in the series, Brunson strung together 32 points and 11 assists in Game 4, 38 points in Game 5 and 41 points in Game 6, all on fewer than 23 shots apiece facing arguably the toughest defense in the league.

While the Knicks fell short, Brunson cemented himself as a postseason star, validating his signing in just one season.

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At the time it looked like the Knicks may have overpaid to nab Brunson, but at this rate he’ll be underpaid. He made $27.7 million this past season — less than Jerami Grant, Jordan Poole, Kyle Lowry, and Gordon Hayward among others — and his contract is declining down to $25 million in 2024-25 despite a rising cap.

He’ll likely deny the ensuing player option for a much beefier extension, but in the meantime he’s well outperforming his deal in an absolute swindle for the Knicks. And that’s only based off last year’s performance.

Brunson still has plenty of room to grow, only now entering his prime at the age of 27. He’s improved every season thus far and there’s no reason to think that won’t continue in the near future.

In short, while you can’t fully judge a signing after one year, the evidence we have thus far points to the Brunson acquisition as an absolute home run. He’s already had the best Knick season at the one in over 30 years, and fans are ecstatic at the prospect of what he could do next.

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