As Jalen Brunson and Knicks keep proving doubters wrong, he's transcending what a superstar can be

It’s hard to put Jalen Brunson’s ascent into words.

We could go through his career, from second-round draft pick to second fiddle, to coming to New York as a starter and ending up a star. Listing the dozens of franchise records broken and leaderboards encroached in only two seasons could do the trick, too.

But maybe most effective is watching the national media and talking heads’ expectations of him move so dramatically that the current knock on Brunson is that he can’t lead this Knicks team to the NBA Finals.

Despite the goalposts moving into Jordan-or-bust territory, Brunson continuously proves the doubters wrong, and is doing it again.

The "star" and "superstar" monikers are thrown around and furiously debated to no end, but neither has a cut-and-dry, generally agreed upon definition. Still, it’s hard to argue averages of 35.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 8.1 assists over eight playoff games doesn’t qualify for either term.

Brunson is the only player in NBA history to have done that, with Luka Doncic and Russell Westbrook matching those figures in fewer games. With Brunson's four consecutive 40-point games, he joined Bernard King, Michael Jordan, and Jerry West as the only players with that long of a streak in the postseason.

As impressive as these numbers are, winning is the biggest metric, and Brunson has brought more winning to the Knicks than anybody since Patrick Ewing.

The Knicks' opening series against the Philadelphia 76ers was Exhibit A, stealing two road wins to bounce the reigning MVP and a perennial Eastern Conference threat in six games. Prior to meeting Brunson and the Knicks, the Sixers won their first-round series in five out of six seasons.

May 8, 2024; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks guards Donte DiVincenzo (0) and Jalen Brunson (11) embrace after defeating the Indiana Pacers 130-121 in game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Madison Square Garden.

Brunson had to shrug off a couple of clunkers to open the series, and has since averaged 39.8 points and 8.7 assists on 51.2 percent shooting from the field and 36.4 percent from three, while playing over 43 minutes a game. He has seemingly become a new level of unstoppable against the Pacers in round two.

After a casual 43-point first game, he injured his left foot late in the first quarter of Game 2, missing the rest of the half. With his team down 10 points, Brunson returned to start the third, a throwback to an injured Willis Reed walking out on the Garden floor for Game 7 of the NBA Finals 54 years prior.

The stakes aren’t comparable, but how Knicks fans and the opposition felt in that moment was probably a lot like how Knicks fans and the opposition felt in Brunson’s. Indiana played with gusto and confidence, New York unsure and discombobulated, until he stepped back on the court.

Brunson didn’t even score until four minutes into the period, but he didn’t have to. The Knicks were already hot on the Pacers’ tail, the game unfolding in a 180-degree turn from where it left off.

That aura -- the immediately palpable confidence just from his being there -- might be the best way to define Brunson and stardom in general. It’s the unsaid “oh no”s from the Pacers that may as well be comic book thought bubbles above their heads, and the renewed audacity from the Knicks, tied to one man.

Of course, he’d eventually have to perform, and to nobody's surprise, he did. Brunson scored 14 points in the final frame, burying a dagger fadeaway jumper with under a minute to go, helping the Knicks go up 2-0 in the series while finishing with 29 points.

This marked yet another clutch performance from Brunson, who has consistently led the Knicks through crunch time this season and in the playoffs. He’s leading the playoffs in points scored with five minutes remaining in a five-point game, and the Knicks are 6-1 in those tight matchups.

Brunson is objectively amid a historic postseason run, one Knicks fans will remember forever. Other members of the NBA masses who point to officiating or rings will keep trying to diminish it, unable to fit Brunson in their framework of what a star should be, long after he’s transcended whatever that word even means.