Jalen Brunson is the face of the New York Knicks organization because he embodies everything the current iteration of the franchise represents. He's an overachiever who's repeatedly defied the odds, silenced the critics, and achieved heights never before imagined.
Brunson isn't supposed to be this good. The undersized former second-round pick plays and carries himself like a role player — mostly because he was never expected to be anything more. He was never supposed to be an All-Star, let alone a superstar in the top five of MVP voting odds.
But that's exactly what he's become. As the face of the organization, Brunson is a microcosm of the Knicks as a whole.
The Knicks have long resided in the NBA's basement. Even after Brunson and his team unexpectedly reached the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals a year ago, that was seen by many as their ceiling.
They were a nice story. Brunson had taken that leap from solid starter to budding star, but many believed the Knicks were still a superstar acquisition away from being true contenders.
Brunson doesn't fit the mold of your modern NBA superstar. He's not some 6-foot-8, athletic freak of a wing with ridiculous physical traits. He's not a super-sized two-way guard with absurd length and scoring ability.
He's an undersized, soft-spoken point guard with passable athleticism. Compare him to the likes of Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jayson Tatum, etc., and it's easy to see why he's been overlooked.
But the results are getting harder and harder to ignore. Brunson's nightly dominance has carried the Knicks to the NBA's best record in 2024. They have the highest net rating since the start of the new year.
This Knicks team is no longer just a heartwarming story. They're winning with more than just whimsy and charm. This team is a powerhouse. They probably shouldn't be — but they are.
Jalen Brunson and the Knicks are legitimate NBA title contenders
It's impossible to accurately detail how this Knicks team functions without watching them on a nightly basis. To borrow a common phrase, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Every Knicks player is currently the best version of themselves.
Jalen Brunson wasn't this Jalen Brunson on the Dallas Mavericks. He was never going to maximize his potential and reach these heights alongside a ball-dominant guard in Doncic. The same goes for all of his teammates.
Julius Randle isn't this Julius Randle without Brunson and a reliable core of overachievers around him. The Randle we've seen this year is the best version of Randle we've seen during his time in the NBA. It's as if he realized he was stronger than 99 percent of the NBA a few weeks into the season.
But even without Randle, the Knicks keep winning. The Knicks blew out a solid Utah Jazz team without Randle, OG Anunoby, and Mitchell Robinson. They beat the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference without those three players and Quentin Grimes.
That shouldn't be possible.
The Knicks shouldn't be blowing out Nikola Jokic and the defending champion Denver Nuggets by 40 points with their fourth-string center starting — but they did just that. They shouldn't be doing the same to Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers, but check the box score for that game as well.
The Knicks are a team of overachievers. Their roster-building strategy was to acquire a group of selfless, team-first, defensive-minded hustlers who also happen to be best friends with one another.
And it's worked. It's produced a magical product, unlike anything this city has seen in decades.
That's a credit to Leon Rose, Tom Thibodeau, and everyone who has had a piece in building this current core. Rose was slammed for the Brunson signing. Now, that contract is possibly the most team-friendly deal in the NBA. The same is true for Donte DiVincenzo and even Isaiah Hartenstein.
The doubters aren't gone, however. Brunson was snubbed of an All-Star starter berth. He wasn't named Eastern Conference Player of the Month for January despite having better numbers than Donovan Mitchell across the board.
Stephen A. Smith is still publicly campaigning for the Knicks to trade for LeBron James to establish them as true contenders. The national consensus is that the Knicks aren't at the level of a title contender.
The NBA isn't ready to accept Brunson as the superstar that he is, just as they're not ready to accept the Knicks as the contenders they are. The Knicks don't have a Giannis Antetokounmpo/Damian Lillard duo. They don't have Jayson Tatum and a host of All-Stars.
They have Brunson. They have Randle. They have Anunoby. They have Hartenstein. They have Precious Achiuwa. They have Josh Hart. Heck, they have Deuce McBride.
But no matter how much people may try to change it, basketball is and always will be a team sport. The Larry O’Brien Trophy isn't given to the best collection of individual players — it's given to the best team.
And you'd be hard-pressed to find a better team in the NBA right now than the Knicks.
The Knicks are being led by an undersized former second-round pick who spent three years in college and didn't start until his fourth NBA season. They're being led by a now-three-time All-Star who broke his leg in his first NBA game and was kicked to the curb by two other teams.
Jalen Brunson, Julius Randle, and the Knicks aren't supposed to be here. They're not supposed to be the face of New York basketball — heck, the face of New York sports. But they are.
It's about time we stop talking about what the Knicks aren't and start focusing on what the Knicks are. They are genuine NBA title contenders. Brunson is a genuine MVP candidate. The 2023-24 Knicks have a real "Team of Destiny" feel to them.
It's best to hop on the bandwagon now before it fully leaves the station.