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Breaking Down Jalen Brunson's Game

Breaking Down Jalen Brunson's Game

Photo by Garrett Ellwood

The New York Knicks got their whale and by whale I mean Jalen Brunson. After some clear tampering, the Knicks got the guy that they wanted and signed him to a 4-year $104 million deal.

I wouldn’t say that this was a bad move or anything — it’s around $26 million a year, which seems like the price for that calibre guy, especially at this age, who won’t be on the decline yet.

His contract value currently ranks 51st with players like Nikola Vucevic, Anfernee Simons, Al Horford, D’Angelo Russell, and Jarrett Allen around that range too. And what he has shown in the past three seasons and the playoffs is that he is in that tier of players.

In each of the last three seasons, he increased his points, rebounds, assists, usage, attempts, and even improved his efficiency despite a bigger role. Then in his second playoffs went out and averaged:

24.0 points, 4.2 assists, and 5.1 rebounds on 55.3% true shooting per 75 possessions

And this is without mentioning some great games he had without Luka Doncic to make sure the Dallas Mavericks won’t go down in the series.

So, how exactly did he do that? What is Brunson’s game and what will he bring?

Rim Pressure & Paint Finishing

The first thing you’d see about Brunson’s game is how much he drives and gets to the paint.

In the regular season, he was 19th in drives per game with 13.6 and attempted 6.4 attempts. In the playoffs, drives rose to 16.7 (6th) and attempts went up to 8.7. He is one of the best guards that can consistently attack and still be highly efficient.

Did you know out of 37 guards that attempted at least 200 shots between 3-10ft, he would have ranked first with 57% — up by almost 10% from the average for guards.

He is able to blow by slower bigs and if that defender is dropping, he needs to get into position quicker, otherwise Brunson will run by you.

You can see in those clips how suddenly he can just speed up when he’s starting off slower. And in the last clip, he shows this quick first step.

That’s why, per BBall-Index, he ranks in the 86th percentile in shot creation and why he ranked second in shots in the paint in the playoffs.

But how exactly does he finish so well?

For one, you can see above how he subtly shields himself with the off hand, has different ways of finishing whether it’s high off the glass, reverse, or turning his body to use the off hand. It seems like he uses his body well to stop getting blocked — fun stat, per PBP, out of 74 players who attempted at least 500 2s, he ranks 54th in shots 2pt FGA blocked.

He also has this deadly floater. For smaller guards, this is one of the most useful shots you can have, especially when you get inside the paint as much as Brunson does. It’s just an effective way to finish over taller guys and when you shoot 55% on those type of shots, the defense has to guard you there.

Also, look at the third clip and how he gets the defenders biting, but has great footwork to get an easier shot.

This is what makes him an elite guy at generating rim pressure and able to finish at a high clip all around the paint. And that is why he ranked:

  • 93rd percentile in rim shot making
  • 94th in finishing talent
  • 96th and above in floater talent, shot making, and creation

Also surprisingly, he’s done some damage in the post. He’s able to punish guards in the post with a number of moves — he has such good footwork in the post that keeps the defenders guessing.

Finally, despite getting to the paint and driving so, so much, he hasn’t been drawing a lot fouls. In the regular season, he averaged just under three free-throw attempts. What’s encouraging, though, is the jump he saw in the playoffs, as he averaged five free-throw attempts.

Mid-Range Game

He has also been one of the best mid-range shooters and his current season would have ranked 4th amongst everyone in the past three seasons.

You can see from those clips that any deep drop coverage from him isn’t going to stop him. He will gladly take those shots every time.

And the way he takes them, it doesn’t even have to be against a drop — he’s got good enough moves where he is able to dribble and get to his spots. Look at the way he can attack fast, make a hesitation, in-and-out move, and bang! stop on a dime in an instant. He can catch any defender off-guard when he stops suddenly into a pull up — notice how the defenders’ momentum carries them to where they were going to go, thus creating space for him.

Per BBall-Index, he ranked in the 98th percentile or better in:

  • Middle game talent
  • Mid-range pull up talent
  • Mid-range shot making
  • Mid-range shot creation

The ability to create your own shots inside the arc is crucial and he has been elite this year.

Unfortunately, that’s where his shot making ends. Although he shot 37.3% from deep, it’s only on 3.2 attempts. But when you look into it further, you’ll see that the majority of his 3s are catch-and-shoot, which he knocks down at a 40% clip.

However, he’s draining only 31% of his pull up 3s on one attempt. That’s a significant weaknesses when it comes to being a scoring option. Without that deep pull up threat, the defenses can and will go under, forcing him to take those shots.

Playmaking & PnR

One of the things I’ve noticed in a couple of the games when he ran a pick-and-roll is how comfortable and in control he seems to be.

He seems to love putting the defenders on his back and then making the necessary moves. This kinda shows to me that he’s playing at his pace. He’s the one in control. And the stats show that — out of 61 players who had at least five possessions as a PnR ball handler, he ranks second in points per possession with 1.06.

But one of his limitations as a player is shown there. Despite that kind of volume, he only has a 9.2% turnover rate. Low-ish assists numbers, high usage, and low turnover rate indicate that he’s a conservative pass, who won’t likely make those high-level, risky reads.

Which brings me to his main weaknesses — his playmaking. If you go through some of the videos in that thread of him scoring, you’ll notice that, that’s what he’s going to do. He’s going to get himself a bucket and most of the time won’t look much to make another read.

Out of the PnRs, he hasn’t looked to make many skip passes, lobs, or even a simple pocket pass. It was more how can this pick create for me.

I’ve went through his 66 assists in the playoffs. The majority of them were what I deemed as simple, basic passes that created little to no advantage. That could have been a simple extra pass, swing, or just passes it off.

The other types of passes he made were what I deemed as simple, reactive reads. He got to the paint, broke down the defense in someway looking to score, and got stopped, then he just kicked the ball out.

But there is some promise.

He’s capable of making high level reads, create wide open opportunities when attacking the rim, threading the needle, and throwing up some lobs. Maybe this will all improve with more opportunity


When it comes to the defense, I don’t think he’s well above average, nor is he any type of liability.

There will be some defensive issues mainly because of his size and that’s always going to be there. There’s only so much you can do as a small guard.

But everything else doesn’t seem to scream negative on defense.

He seems to be smart, aware of what he needs to do and where to be off ball, knows when to help, switch. And it seems like he does a good job going around off ball screens.

He’s for sure not someone you can put on the best player, but also not someone you’d have to take out because of their defense.

Overall Thoughts

So, in the end, I like this move for the Knicks. They get a great player — one that is one of the best at getting to the rim, finishing, deadly mid-range shooter, can operate in a PnR, and there are flashes of him becoming a better playmaker.

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