Candace Parker clears air following Jalen Brunson criticism

There’s no denying that Knicks guard Jalen Brunson elevated his stardom with his performance in the playoffs last season.

With his team struggling to score, Brunson kept the Knicks in their series against the eventual Eastern Conference-champion Miami Heat, pushing them to six games and almost a seventh.

However, WNBA legend and TNT analyst Candace Parker made some comments earlier this year that angered Knicks fans. At the time, she criticized Brunson's play in the postseason. But Parker says she was really questioning Brunson’s place on the team and whether he could be “the guy” to get New York a title.

“What I was alluding to was the fact that in the first round of the playoffs, he was the best player on the court against Donovan Mitchell. He was the best player on the court,” Parker explained Tuesday on a Zoom call for TNT ahead of this weekend’s All-Star Game. “And the second round, especially on the defensive end, Miami picked on him a great deal. And Jimmy Butler was, in fact, the best player on the court.”

Parker, who became the first woman to call an NBA All-Star Game last year, was trying to make the point that Brunson’s place in the Knicks pecking order comes into question when you are talking about winning NBA Titles.

The two-time WNBA MVP believes the Knicks will struggle if Brunson has to be the No. 1 guy because, as she points out, it wasn’t enough against Miami.

“It was no slight on Jalen Brunson. I think he makes everybody better around him. I think he makes winning plays,” Parker added. “My point was, who are the Knicks going to go after to put next to Jalen Brunson to be that guy and to be that No. 1 guy in those moments?”

New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (11) controls the ball against Los Angeles Lakers guard Austin Reaves (15) during the fourth quarter at Madison Square Garden.

Knicks fans took offense to Parker’s earlier comments about Brunson’s play between the first and second rounds because, at face value, it just wasn’t true. Brunson averaged 24 points and 4.8 assists per game against the Cavaliers and stepped it up against the Heat, averaging 31 points and 6.3 assists.

But the two-time WNBA MVP says she just offered her opinion but is waiting to see if the Knicks, as presently constituted, can prove the doubters wrong.

“There are many styles of basketball. When everyone was doubting whether you can be a three-point shooting team and win a championship and now everyone does it,” she said. “Maybe that’s the thing. Maybe the Knicks have found that [style] and maybe there are other Jalen Brunsons out there teams will try to go after to be that team. But until it’s done, I think there’s going to be a lot of doubters.”

Parker did praise the Knicks front office for their trades this season to surround Brunson with players who can play elite defense, because she felt that’s what was lacking against the Heat in the playoffs last year.

With that said, the Knicks enter Wednesday at 33-21 and Brunson is a big part of that. The second-year Knick is averaging 27.5 points and 6.5 assists a game en route to his first All-Star selection.

Perhaps Brunson’s elevated game as the Knicks’ de facto No. 1 is enough to get New York to the promised land. We’ll just have to wait and see how it plays out.