Remember all those years Knicks fans spent begging the basketball gods to find them a decent point guard?
Remember the sad parade of sub-par and past-their-prime guards who have come through Madison Square Garden over the past decade or so?
The Knicks have started 13 different point guards in the past 14 years on opening night, dating back to 2009. That list doesn’t even include Frank Ntilikina, who played 211 games for the Knicks but averaged just 5.5 points. Or Jeremy Lin, who remains beloved by Knicks fans for his run in 2012 but was never a longterm answer.
Well, it appears 13 is the lucky number for the Knicks as their prayers have been answered big time this year with Jalen Brunson.
After a dominating stretch in which he has scored 34 or more points in three straight games, Brunson was recognized as the Eastern Conference player of the week Monday. And you can bet it won’t be the last time he gets that honor. Brunson, whom the Knicks signed to a four-year, $104 million contract this offseason, is proving himself to be worth every penny.
In fact, there’s a solid case to be made that Brunson is the best point guard in his prime to play for the Knicks since Mark Jackson was in charge in the late eighties and early nineties.
The Knicks have had great point guards who were past their prime — Derrick Rose, Jason Kidd and Kemba Walker come to mind. But the only point guard who could actually challenge Brunson as being the best since Jackson is Stephon Marbury.
Skill-level and gaudy-stat wise, Marbury is ahead of Brunson. Before he took off to become a basketball god in China, Marbury played 13 seasons, made two All-Star teams and averaged 19.3 points and 7.6 assists. In 2004-2005, his first full season with the Knicks, he played in all 82 games, averaged 21.7 points and 8.1 assists.
The problem is that there’s plenty that Marbury didn’t do. And topping that list is making the Knicks a better team. The Knicks did not win a playoff game in his four and a half seasons leading the team. In their sole playoff appearance, 2004, the year he was traded to the team midyear, they were swept by Kidd’s Nets in the first round.
Marbury never displayed the leadership skills that Brunson has demonstrated in his four plus months with the team. In fact, Marbury was responsible for one of the more embarrassing episodes of the Knicks past 20 years — and this is saying a lot — when he testified in the Anucha Browne Sanders trial that he had sex with a team intern after they went to a strip club.
Fast forward past dozens of point guards and the Knicks (25-20) are playing their best basketball in recent memory. The Knicks head into tomorrow’s game against the Wizards in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, having won seven of their last nine.
Some doubted that Brunson would be a good fit for the Knicks. However, not only has Brunson fit well; he has flourished and become more efficient. He is currently averaging 22.4 points and 6.3 assists, both career highs.
Brunson has stepped up in crunch time and makes everyone around him look better. Just witness the renaissance that Julius Randle is having after his crash and burn season last year. Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said Monday that Brunson’s presence has gone a long way in freeing up Randle to play the way he wants to play.
“That’s the added value of having Jalen,” Thibodeau said.
The biggest added value of having Jalen is Knicks fans are no longer whining about their point guards. They have found a guy talented and team oriented enough to lead them not only into the playoffs but possibly out of the first round for the first time in 10 years.
Jalen Brunson has literally become a "point" guard, scoring at a much higher clip than in his previous four NBA seasons. His 30-point games by season: