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Knicks’ Jalen Brunson more than worth tampering for

Monty Williams is all too familiar with the hows and whys of Jalen Brunson’s success. Last spring, the coach of the Phoenix Suns watched the point guard of the Dallas Mavericks banish his 64-win team from the playoffs. 

Luka Doncic was the primary source of the Suns’ discontent, because Doncic seems destined to become an all-time great. But if Brunson didn’t outplay Chris Paul in that Western Conference semi, Dallas wouldn’t have advanced to the next round, and the Knicks might have been less eager to flout the rules and sign the free agent to a $104 million deal. 

As it turned out, Brunson was worth far more than the 2025 second-round pick his new employer forfeited in the tampering case before Monday’s 102-83 thrashing of the Suns, and he was worth far more than that pick afterward. Williams, the former Knick, explained it this way while noting Brunson’s training at details-centric Villanova, where the point guard won two national titles: “He’s fundamental, but he still has an edge and he still has some playground in his game. You have to have a pretty steady demeanor, a big-time backbone, to incorporate that kind of program like Villanova had and still be able to play your game, which I’m sure came from his dad, too. 

“I just think he’s a really, really good basketball player. He plays at an All-Star level most nights.” 

And most afternoons, too. Playing before a matinee Garden crowd after missing three games with a hip injury, Brunson was indeed an upgraded version of his father, the current Knicks assistant and former Knicks player and journeyman who survived a long time in the league on pure grit. Jalen Brunson is Rick Brunson, plus a lot of talent. The Suns found out the hard way one more time. 

Knicks
Chris Paul and Jalen Brunson during the Knicks’ win over the Suns on Monday.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

Chris Paul, first-ballot Hall of Famer, brings out the best in his much younger counterpart. More than seven months after outscoring the Suns’ quarterback, 24-10, in Game 7 of the postseason, Brunson outscored him, 24-11, in Game 38 of the regular season. 

“Chris Paul has been a mentor for me for a long time, since high school,” Brunson said. 

If he appreciates the mentorship, Brunson’s sure got the funniest way of showing it. 

“It’s nothing against [Paul],” he said. “It’s just like when you play against your idols, you want to play well.” 

Brunson scored 16 points in the second quarter, or 16 more than Paul scored in the first half. All across the board, the game was no more competitive than Giants-Colts was across the river Sunday. The home team scored 21 straight points to take a 52-20 lead over an opponent that had spent the entire New Year’s weekend in the big city, and played like it. 

Of greater consequence, the fans spent parts of the third and fourth quarters chanting “M-V-P” with Julius Randle on the foul line. This time last year, after his torrid love affair with the Garden turned sour, Randle angered the crowd with his thumbs-down gesture and declaration that the fans should “shut the f— up.” Everyone agreed Monday it was cool to see and hear the relationship repaired (“It’s good to be on the good side of the Garden,” is how Randle put it), though the big man surprised a few observers after his 28-point, 16-rebound, six-assist performance by saying the game is coming a lot easier to him now than it did during his special 2020-21 season. 

“I attribute a lot of that to Jalen, obviously,” Randle said. 

Jalen Brunson reacts during the Knicks' win over the Suns on Jan. 2.
Jalen Brunson reacts during the Knicks’ win over the Suns on Jan. 2.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

He explained that he hated playing against Brunson in seasons past because “he’s just like this little 6-foot point guard that lives in the lane and is strong, and he’s just annoying.” So yes, Randle is surprised at how much he’s enjoyed partnering with this pest in the paint. 

“He’s one of the best teammates I’ve ever had,” he said. “I can’t say enough [about] the chemistry and energy that he brings to the locker room.” 

Brunson batted away the suggestion that he’s done a ton for Randle, crediting the player and saying, “I’m just doing my part. I want to be a great teammate, be a great friend, just try and help us win games.” 

The Knicks have Brunson under contract for four years, which is very good news for educated fans of the city game. New Yorkers love few things more than they love herky-jerky point guards who know how to weave through traffic, and it feels like the Knicks haven’t given them once since Walt Frazier. 

“Jalen is a playmaker,” said his coach, Tom Thibodeau, “and when I say that I mean whatever the game needs, he’s going to provide. … He gets us organized, and I think once you get the team organized, then you can use your creativity to create advantages. 

“And I think that’s what he’s done great. He’s a master at creating advantages.” 

Jalen Brunson has his flaws, especially on the defensive end. He isn’t big, and he isn’t fast, and he isn’t athletic. 

But in the end, he is a quarterback worth tampering for.

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