Connor’s Corner: Jalen Brunson 

New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (11)shoots against Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 5, 2023, in New York. Photo by John Minchillo/AP Photo.

Writer’s Note: This article was written before the New York Knicks’ away game against the Orlando Magic and shortly after the team’s home game against the Philadelphia 76ers. 

Hello and welcome back to the fourth edition of Connor’s Corner, where I discuss a standout performance in professional sports and that player’s journey from high school to the professional level. Following an exciting week of NBA action, there was a standout player that helped lead his team to victory. When his team did lose, his efforts made the contest a close fight to the end. That player was New York Knicks point guard Jalen Brunson. 

It was all smiles in Madison Square Garden last Sunday for not only Brunson, but the entire New York crowd, coming in as the 4.5-point underdog against the 76ers. While Brunson’s performance of 21 points, seven assists and five rebounds isn’t breaking any records, he helped his team more than one might think. His 21 points weighed more in a low scoring, 108-97 contest — a game where the Knicks were trailing as much as 21 points to the No. 4 team in the conference. Brunson’s heroics were a continuation of the night before, where he broke out against the LA Clippers. In Saturday night’s contest, he shot 14-for-19 from the field and 8-for-10 from the charity stripe, good for 41 points. While the Knicks fell 134-128, they did keep it close, with the veteran playing hero for New York by sinking a floater late in the fourth quarter, forcing OT. Brunson is averaging 33.3 PPG and 6.0 APG in his last four games. He also owns the best scoring month out of any Knicks point guard in franchise history, putting up a monstrous 28.7 PPG in January. 

Despite having a career year thus far, Brunson didn’t make the 2023 NBA All-Star team, which upset many, including teammate Julius Randle, who believes the NBA got it wrong. Randle, an All-Star this year, even said in a post-game interview, “Only thing that really sucks about it is I think Jalen should be right here with me.” Knicks fans may get their wish, as last Sunday, the Brooklyn Nets announced a blockbuster trade that sent All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving to the Dallas Mavericks. Since the Mavericks and Nets are in separate conferences, this opens up a roster spot in the Eastern Conference. Many fans have already taken to Twitter to offer up replacements, and one fan even said, “An Eastern Conference All-Star PG was just traded to the West…We know a guy [Brunson] who could replace that spot.” 

Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden (1) shoots against New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (11) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 5, 2023, in New York. Photo by John Minchillo/AP Photo.

Before coming to the Big Apple, the 26-year-old played for the Dallas Mavericks for four seasons. Brunson was mediocre for Mark Cuban’s squad, as he only averaged above ten points per game twice and never averaged more than five assists per game. Despite these low stats, he did average significant minutes: over 20 minutes per game in every season but one. Despite not having much to show for in the regular season, Brunson played well for the Mavericks in the postseason, specifically last year. In 18 games, the future Knick averaged 21.6 points per game and shot 46.6% from the field. However, he only averaged 3.7 assists per game, a surprisingly low value for a point guard. While 3.7 assists per game is good enough for a player like score-minded Stephen Curry, Brunson is not on that level yet. After this performance, Brunson’s contract with the Mavericks expired. He and the team could not come to an agreement, so Brunson inked a four-year deal with the Knicks worth $104 million. 

Jalen Brunson is not the only Brunson to play in the NBA; his father, Rick Brunson, enjoyed a nine-season NBA career where he played with eight different squads. After being born, Jalen moved to Lincolnshire, Illinois, where he attended Stevenson High School — leading them to a state championship in 2015. Not only did Brunson help bring a state title to his school, he also earned Illinois Mr. Basketball honors as a senior in 2015. The New Jersey native was then named McDonald’s All-American, Parade All-American and the USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year in 2015 after taking home MVP honors for Team USA at the FIBA Under-19 World Championship. Brunson also had a solid junior year, which included a 56-point performance in the state semifinals. Despite the strong individual outing, Stevenson would still fall short in that contest 75-68. However, performances like this made Brunson a five-star recruit out of high school and got him on colleges’ radar. The young baller would later commit to Villanova University. 

During his time with Villanova, Brunson had one of the best college careers one could have. As a junior, he played a significant role in helping the Wildcats win their second national championship in three years while also being named to many awards, such as National Player of the Year, Consensus First Team All-American, the Bob Cousy Award and the Big East Player of the Year in 2017-18. In his collegiate career, he averaged 14.4 PPG and 3.7 APG, all while shooting 51% from the field. 

Lately, Brunson has been playing out of his mind, which has helped keep his team competitive; however, Spike Lee will tell you this is old news. The Knicks are a fringe playoff team; they currently find themselves as the No. 7 seed, four games above the Indiana Pacers for the Play-In tournament threshold. Brunson has established himself as a leader of this squad and has proven himself so far, but the season is far from over. Now, he needs to step up his game more than ever. The fate of New York’s season is uncertain. However, what is certain is that if the Knicks want a trip to the playoffs, they will need Brunson to produce the way he did this past month. If he does, this young Knicks team can win on any given day. 

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