Jalen Brunson is ready for this.
Brunson has risen from an overlooked second-round pick to the New York Knicks’ big off-season free agent signing. There’s pressure that comes with getting a $104 million contract and having some analysts say you are overpaid. Pressure comes with being the guy with the ball in his hands, directing the Knicks’ offense in the bright lights of Madison Square Garden.
Brunson is ready for this.
Brunson talked about that big contract and the chatter about whether he deserved it with his former teammate J.J. Redick on the Old Man and the Three podcast. Brunson was unfazed (hat tip Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News).
“I’m definitely not ignorant to it. It’s impossible not to see. So that’s the first thing. I’m honored that I got this opportunity to be in this club to make whatever the number is. But no matter what the number is, nothing changes. Nothing changes for me.
“I think the day of me agreeing to terms, before I did any of that, I got my work in. Weightlifting, shooting… Get my work in, do the stuff later. I’ve always been that way. I don’t plan on changing. It doesn’t bother me. I’m going to be the same person, no matter what. No matter what happens, no matter what anybody says. I’m going to be me and I’m not too worried about that.”
One guy sticking up for Brunson and saying he is ready for the pressures of New York is the guy that put him in the spotlight in the first place, former Villanova coach Jay Wright. Here’s what Wright Zach Braziler of the New York Post.
“When Luka [Doncic] was out, he was very comfortable taking on that responsibility in the playoffs. But he’s really smart and he really knows that he needs good players around him, too. His basketball IQ is off the charts. He will look at the game like a coach and a general manager. His ego doesn’t get in the way. But he’ll never shy from the responsibility. He loves it.”
Brunson’s IQ and work ethic should fit well with the grinding style of coach Tom Thibodeau.
It’s finding a balance — and better setting up — Julius Randle and RJ Barrett that will be key. Randle’s production fell off last season amid concerns about his “psyche,” but the on-court issues can largely be traced to his 3-point shooting going from 41.1% his All-NBA season to 30.8% last season (on a higher percentage of attempts). The quality of Randle’s shots went down as fast as his percentage. Can Brunson help set up Randle with more off-the-dribble 3s (he shot those better than catch-and-shoot attempts last season), get him more touches at the elbow (he shot 56.2% from those touches) and have him working in the post on better matchups?
Can Brunson as a scoring threat help get Barrett in better matchups that sees him driving to the rim more and not pulling up for jumpers?
Whatever the Knicks roster looks like when training camp opens, Brunson is ready for this.