How Jalen Brunson's game has evolved during the 2024 Knicks season

What often separates the best players in the league from their All-Star peers is the continued development and evolution of their games after joining the elite of the sport. LeBron James added his entire post game after leaving Cleveland, Steph Curry took his inside finishing to new levels during his peak and Giannis Antetokoumpo turned into a full-time roll man for his championship run, among other examples.

We’re seeing a similar approach taken by Jalen Brunson, who may not stand among those names yet but is unsurprisingly doing the work necessary to get there. His Knicks career arc of under two seasons going from possibly overpaid bench guard to reliable starter to MVP candidate and franchise great is testament enough to his growth.

But that bird’s eye view doesn’t provide proper context and credit for Brunson’s meteoric rise, much of which has come in just the past year. Let’s break down some of the ways Brunson has improved his game throughout this season.

Coming into 2023-24, one piece of low-hanging fruit Brunson plucked was his three-point shooting. He shot 40 percent from three over the three prior seasons, yet despite playing off Luka Doncic and becoming a lead ball handler in New York, little of his volume came from range.

That changed this year, as 32.3 percent of Brunson’s shot attempts have come from three, a career-high, and he’s attempting 9.7 threes per 100 possessions, an additional three shots from his previous high last season. Not only is he seeking out the deep ball more, he’s done it in a variety of ways.

First, he’s pulling up from three much more on the pick-and-roll, in order to punish defenders going under or playing drop coverage. He’s also much more comfortable taking threes from an extra step or two beyond the arc, a useful tool for catching defenses off guard, especially in above-the-break isolations.

Despite the major uptick in attempts, Brunson hasn’t lost any efficiency from there, thanks to his ridiculous 45 percent clip on catch-and-shoot looks. This development paid real dividends in getting him atop the scoring leaderboards, but his improvements didn’t stop there.

Amidst injuries to fellow starters Julius Randle and OG Anunoby, Brunson not only had to take on a larger scoring burden, but find new ways to do so, with defenses giving him nearly all of their attention. Spamming pick-and-rolls isn’t effective when they’re constantly blitzed and there aren’t enough shooters on the floor, so the Knicks coaching staff moved Brunson elsewhere to get buckets: Away from the ball.

/ Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports
/ Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

In the past two months, the Knicks featured Brunson in many more off-ball sets, having him do his best Curry impression for stretches. This has helped diversify his attack, improve his efficiency, and now gives him more weapons to take into the playoffs and beyond.

You can see this play out via the eye test or statistically as the Knicks adjusted to their injuries -- 35.9 percent of Brunson’s March field goals were assisted compared to 30.4 percent in February. Naturally, his shooting numbers climbed with it.

He’s also developed significant chemistry with Isaiah Hartenstein, often feeding him in the high post and playing off him for easy looks. He’s now a constant backdoor cut threat despite his size, a fresh innovation on his game.

For context, NBA Advanced Stats tracks scoring off cuts, if the player ended at least 10 possessions with that play type. Brunson did not qualify last season, but is already listed this year, scoring 1.52 points per play.

We see a similar trend on his off-screen scores, in which he recorded 11 possessions last season, but is at 45 this year, scoring 1.33 points per play. With Brunson arguably being the league’s deadliest spot-up shooter this season, he and the Knicks shifting his game towards more of them is a dangerous development.

Brunson also worked on becoming a better point guard from a distributing standpoint, and somehow his results only improved with added responsibilities. Prior to the Anunoby trade, Brunson’s assist percentage was 27 percent and his assist-to-turnover ratio a 2.49, already impressive marks.

But despite losing two offensive creators and getting none back, then losing his co-star, Brunson’s numbers jumped to 33.7 percent and a 2.94 ratio, respectively. Among players who average over nine assists per 100 possessions, Brunson is tied for the fewest turnovers per 100 possessions with Devin Booker.

The Knicks were optimistic about Brunson coming into his second year in the blue and orange, believing he hadn’t reached his peak and there was further room to grow. That’s never looked more true, and if Brunson continues this pace of improvement, he’ll be among the greats in no time.