You’d never know it, but New York Knicks fans are enamored with All-Star point guard Jalen Brunson.
The sea of No. 11 jerseys peppered throughout the Big Apple? No idea what you’re talking about. Him, Josh Hart, and Donte DiVincenzo leading the so-called New York Villanovas? What’s that?
Deafening chants of “MVP!” that shook Madison Square Garden to its core in Thursday’s 109-105 comeback win over the one-time rival Indiana Pacers in which Brunson put the Knicks on his back with a 40-point night? FUGHEDDABOUTIT.
Now that we’ve gotten the sarcasm out of the way, allow me to break out the megaphone and say it again: Jalen Brunson is the most disrespected player in the NBA.
And soon, like his NFL counterpart Lamar Jackson, he should add an MVP trophy to his list of accomplishments.
The numbers don’t lie, even if Brunson doesn’t lead in any major statistic. His 27.1 points per game rank tenth in the league. His 6.1 assists are 15th.
Cue his MVP odds hovering between +6000 and +8000.
Now, to be fair, the NBA is loaded with talented players who arguably have a stronger case. The Sixers’ Joel Embiid leads the league in scoring and looked on pace for a second straight MVP, but just went down with a knee injury. Similarly, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo is having another dominant but not special season.
There’s always multitalented unicorn Luka Doncic, but his Dallas Mavericks are only a play-in team at this point. All are very good players but MVPs? Pump the brakes.
That isn’t to say Jalen Brunson should absolutely run away with the award. Just the opposite. Oklahoma City Thunder star Shai-Gilgeous Alexander has his team sitting No. 2 in the Western Conference after a play-in elimination last year. If there’s any player who deserves an MVP as much as Brunson, if not more, it’s Gilgeous-Alexander.
But even so, how much of the Thunder’s improvement is on him? Remember, Chet Holmgren is healthy this year after sitting out last season with an injured foot. Gilgeous-Alexander, though productive, is basically on par with last year’s numbers with slight increases in percentages and passing while also leading the NBA in steals per game. Plus, having a star 7-foot-1 rookie and an improved Jalen Williams helps.
Jalen Brunson has no such help, at least not right now. The dominant Julius Randle is out with a dislocated shoulder. Nicks and soreness have the defense-minded OG Anunoby and Quentin Grimes on the bench. And let’s not forget acquiring Anunoby in December cost the Knicks RJ Barrett and an elite shooter in Immanuel Quickley.
This means it all comes down to the most important stat nobody knows: Value Over Replacement Player (VORP). This is basketball’s version of baseball’s WAR and a good measuring stick in this case.
We’ll start with Embiid and Antetokounmpo, who each have a 4.1 VORP on the year. Milwaukee’s whole system is to let Giannis dominate and everyone shoots/spaces around him, even with Damian Lillard. The veteran point guard only has a 1.7 VORP on the year despite maintaining his career averages. Embiid, by comparison, has the budding Tyrese Maxey and experienced Tobias Harris to help.
Point being, neither team is necessarily up the creek without their highest value player.
This, in turn, dampens Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s case, but only slightly. His clean 5.0 VORP is well-earned, even if he has good support in Williams and Holmgren. Gilgeous-Alexander also plays in a much faster-paced offense under coach Mark Daigneault.
Doncic’s 4.5 VORP is good amidst his career-best season, but he’s otherwise a great player on a mediocre team.
Jalen Brunson, meanwhile, in his career season, has a modest VORP of 3.0, dwarfed by comparison to the marks above. He too is having a career season, but at a slower pace in coach Tom Thibodeau’s defensive system.
To which this writer says, so effing what? The best stats don’t always equal the most value and we’ve known that for years. We’ve also established the reasons for and against all other players mentioned.
The difference is if the Knicks lost Jalen Brunson, especially right now with Randle and Anunoby injured, and also Mitchell Robinson? They’d be sunk. Miles “Deuce” McBride is not enough of a playmaker to be the full-time point guard and Donte DiVincenzo can’t score all the points himself.
Simply put, without Jalen Brunson, the New York Knicks simply aren’t the Knicks, especially now with so many injured players. This team was starving, thirsting, begging, praying for a star scoring point guard for so long. The idea of having to win without him sends chills down Knicks fans’ spines.
Hear it loud and clear. Read my lips. Say it so everyone from Madison Square Garden to the place formally known as the Staples Center hears it.
Jalen Brunson is a no-doubt MVP candidate, and others would probably see that if they actually sat down and watched the Knicks.