How Knicks star Jalen Brunson made his first All-Star team

When the New York Knicks signed Jalen Brunson to a four-year, $104 million contract in 2022, there was talk of the deal being an overpay. Instead, the signing has become a franchise-altering deal, culminating in an All-Star berth for the former second-round pick.

Over the past decade, the Knicks cycled through point guards. There were the reclamation project pickups Emmanuel Mudiay, Elfrid Payton and Trey Burke. Past-their-prime stars like Derrick Rose and Kemba Walker came and went. And Frank Ntilikina, a 2017 lottery pick, didn’t pan out. So Brunson's rise to superstardom has quickly made him one of the best signings in franchise history.

After a quality 2022-23 season that saw him average 24.0 points and lead the Knicks to a playoff series win, an All-Star-selection in his second year in New York seemed inevitable for Brunson. This season, he is playing his own nightly game of twister on the floor, tying up opposing defenders with various pivots, pump fakes and hesitations.

In 48 games with the Knicks, Brunson is averaging 27.3 points and 6.5 assists. He’s evolved his game, launching more three-pointers (6.6 per 36 minutes) than ever in his career. The floaters and other midrange trick shots are still a regular piece of Brunson’s shotmaking puzzle. His assist rate has risen and his turnover rate has dropped despite receiving increased attention from opposing defenses.

Brunson’s performance has been a central theme to why New York finds itself in fourth place in the Eastern Conference with a 32-18 record. The Knicks need him on the floor to keep the offense humming. According to NBA Stats, the Knicks produce 121.5 points per 100 possessions with Brunson in the game, which would be the highest offensive efficiency in the NBA. In the 674 minutes he has been off the floor, New York scores just 105.2 points per 100 possessions, a figure that would rank dead-last in the NBA.

Taking on extra responsibility

New York realigned its roster about a month ago, trading two of its highest-usage players, RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley, to the Toronto Raptors for OG Anunoby. Though Anunoby has been a better fit and had a significant impact on New York’s recent stretch of winning, it’s also placed more stress and responsibility on Brunson and fellow All-Star Julius Randle in New York’s offense.

Brunson leads the association in average dribbles per touch and has the ball in his hands longer than anyone else in the NBA. Still, he has been more efficient, recording 11 30-point games, including two 40-point scoring outbursts.

A perfect example of Brunson’s growth and extra responsibility was this past week. Even with Randle out due to injury, Brunson carried the Knicks to a 3-1 record. In a Tuesday night victory against the Utah Jazz, he saw constant double-teams and extra pressure, but was unfazed, scoring 29 points and tallying nine assists. The next game he dropped 40 points on the Indiana Pacers. Even in the one loss against the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday night, Brunson had 36 points, six rebounds and 10 assists despite facing incessant double teams and traps.

There’s been much debate in the national media throughout the season about whether Brunson is a true superstar, but he’s consistently proven doubters wrong. We’ve heard every reason for that including his lack of size or athleticism.

In 11 playoff games last year, the point guard cemented himself as an offensive centerpiece after averaging 27.8 points and 5.6 assists. This included 38- and 41-point masterpieces in the final two games of New York’s second-round series loss to the Miami Heat. Brunson’s steady improvements in his second season are just a confirmation that there’s still room to grow and more to achieve for the 6-foot-2 guard.