Jalen Brunson contract with Knicks poses $104 million question: Is New York's new point guard a star?

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As expected, the Knicks gave Jalen Brunson the bag.

Following the best season of his career, news broke on the first day of free agency that Brunson has agreed to a four-year, $104 million contract with the Knicks that includes a player option in the final season.

After riding shotgun next to Luka Doncic in a supporting role, Brunson will get the opportunity to show what he can do behind the wheels. In addition to a hefty price tag, the Knicks are handing the keys to Brunson and expecting him to evolve into a star.

Is Brunson fit for the task? Let's take a closer look.

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How good is Jalen Brunson?

It's a simple question with an incredibly complex answer. 

He appeared in 79 games during the regular season, 61 of which he started. He posted the best numbers of his career to the tune of 16.3 points, 4.8 assists and 3.9 rebounds on .502/.373/.840 shooting splits. He then took his game to another level in the playoffs, helping the Mavericks make the Western Conference Finals with averages of 21.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game.

Brunson shines as a midrange scorer. What he lacks in size (6-foot-1) and athleticism he makes up for with his old-school craftiness. He's also kind of a bully.

Listed at 190 pounds, Brunson is stronger than he might look, and he actively seeks contact.

Just ask the Suns, who were on the receiving end of him relentlessly hunting their smaller guards in the playoffs.

When someone bigger switches on him, Brunson busts out the combo moves that bring TSN's Steph Noh back to his college days. His shiftiness makes him a tough cover for forwards and centers.

Brunson is at his best when he's creating out of the pick-and-roll, and he's proven to be a pretty good one-on-one scorer. Only nine players averaged more isolation points per game than him in the playoffs, a list that features the likes of James Harden, Joel Embiid and Kevin Durant. While he didn't rank as high in the regular season, there still weren't that many players who scored more isolation points than him.

Brunson made the most of more on-ball duties this season, but spending the last four seasons playing alongside the ball-dominant Doncic has given him plenty of experience playing off-ball. Nearly a fifth of his shot attempts in 2021-22 were catch-and-shoot 3s, and he canned them at a healthy 40.1 percent clip.

Outside of scoring, Brunson is a solid passer and while he's a limited defender, he's smart and is almost always in the right place.

So is Brunson a star? No. Is he a starting-caliber guard with room still to grow? Yes.

That brings us to the $104 million question...

How good can Jalen Brunson be?

An encouraging sign for the Knicks: Brunson was pretty dang good when he played without Doncic this season.

According to NBA.com, Brunson averaged 14.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists per 36 minutes when he shared the court with the three-time All-Star. When Doncic was on the bench, those numbers skyrocketed to 22.1 points, 7.4 assists and 4.5 rebounds per 36 minutes.

He wasn't nearly as efficient of a 3-point shooter without Doncic (42.2 percent to 32.3 percent), but he still shot 49.8 percent from the field. That's quite impressive considering he went from having the same usage rate as a role player like Goran Dragic to a primary creator like Anthony Edwards.

Jalen Brunson's stats per 36 minutes (2021-22)
  PTS REB AST TS% Usage rate
With Doncic on court 14.8 4.4 3.5 60.9 16.6%
With Doncic off court 22.1 4.5 7.4 56.5 26.2%

Then, of course, Brunson averaged 32.0 points in the three games Doncic missed at the start of the 2022 NBA Playoffs, including a 41-point game that helped the Mavericks tie their first-round series with the Jazz at 1-1.

Time will tell if that's a sign of what's to come, but there's reason to believe Brunson will adjust well to more responsibility.

Jalen Brunson's contract: Is he overpaid?

You wouldn't be alone if your first reaction to Brunson's deal was that's a whole lot of money to spend on a former second-round pick who has come off the bench more games than he's started to this point of his career, but $20-plus million is sort of the going rate for starting point guards nowadays, and the only shot the Knicks had at getting him was outbidding the Mavericks.

At the time of this writing, Brunson's $26 million annual average salary ranks 15th among point guards and could drop as more players sign this summer and next. Once you get past the initial sticker shock — which says far more about the state of contracts than it does specifically about Brunson — it's very reasonable.

Also, as TSN's Steph Noh wisely pointed out, this is one of those deals that could look better with time if the cap continues to rise.

The reality is that the cap is going up, and Brunson is a very good young player who might have another gear if he's not playing alongside Luka Doncic. His new deal would put him somewhere in the neighborhood of the 40th-highest paid player in the league. 

Noh gave the Knicks a B for signing Brunson to the contract they did. That feels more than fair.

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Scott Rafferty is a Senior NBA Editor for The Sporting News