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The Knicks covet Jalen Brunson. That has been the worst kept secret of the offseason. They are expected to offer him a four-year, $110 million contract once free agency begins on Thursday. Let’s take a deeper dive into this likely marriage and see where it puts the Knicks.
It is important to add some context about just how much the Knicks have done to clear up space for Brunson. During the draft they traded their lottery pick in order to shed the contract of Kemba Walker. On Tuesday, they traded Nerlens Noel and Alec Burks in order to clear up over $19 million in cap space.
Jalen Brunson is a good player, he was a great second option for the Mavs this postseason run. The problem is that Brunson is not a second or third option for any team trying to contend and win a title. It worked somewhat in Dallas because he was playing with the most ball dominant and one of the most skilled players in the league. He was a solid compliment to Luka because the offensive system was built around Luka’s talents. This won’t be the case in New York. He will be expected to be the primary ball handler and I don’t know if he is an advanced enough playmaker to be a lead guard especially for a contending team. Brunson and Knicks guard Immanuel Quickley had essentially the same usage rate, AST% this past season. Quickley played about 9 less minutes per game but if we use per 36 stats he averaged 17.6-5.5-4.9. Jalen Brunson averaged 18.4-5.4-4.4 per 36. Quickley is a nice young rotation player but no one is knocking down the door to pay him $110 million. The Knicks seem to be rushing the process here in order to win a playoff series.
It is hard to win championships with a small guard being your first or second option unless they are an extreme outlier. Steph Curry is the greatest shooter of all-time with great teammates. Kyle Lowry won on the back of Kawhi Leonard in one of the weirdest series ever. Tony Parker played for one of the greatest coaches of all-time with arguably the greatest power forward of all-time. For the Knicks to bet against the field here, is a move that could spell disaster. Especially when the roster you are surrounding him isn’t doing him any favors. Barrett is a nice young piece but it is becoming evident he is a second or third option on a good team instead of an alpha. Julius Randle is an enigma who is one year in to a massive extension. Adding Brunson into that adds a third member to a core whose skills don’t really compliment each other.
I like Brunson and I think he is a fun player. This pairing with the Knicks just seems destined to fail. The Knicks need a real deal star to get back to prominence, unless Luka was completely holding him back, Brunson is not that guy. Maybe the Knicks have some other moves up their sleeves and can unload Randle. If that is the case then maybe there is some optimism for Knicks fans and we can get winning basketball back in New York.