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Is Brunson Ball the Best Strategy for the Knicks?

New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson

The New York Knicks are up 2-0 against Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers in the First Round of the 2024 NBA Playoffs but it doesn’t seem like they should be.

When Embiid touted the Sixers as the better team following their Game 2 loss, it sounded like self-assuredness to some and self-aggrandizement to others. Known more for his hubris than humility, it could’ve been both.

However, there’s no doubt that Philadelphia has more talent on their roster. Even with Embiid hobbled, he’s managed to average 31.5 points per game. Unfortunately for the Sixers, he’s also shooting 39.2 percent from the field and 23.5 percent from 3, taking a heavy diet of tough shot attempts.

Though many of his teammates are less capable scorers, it may behoove Embiid to use his on-ball gravity to create easier opportunities for his teammates. This requires more purposeful ball-movement by Embiid and play-calling from Sixers head coach Nick Nurse. Yet, it doesn’t call for them to do anything outside of their ability.

Is Brunson Ball the Best Strategy for the Knicks?

With that said, the Knicks may be up 2-0, but they’ve encountered a similar issue.

Breakout star Jalen Brunson is New York’s best perimeter scorer since Carmelo Anthony.

So far in the 2024 NBA Playoffs, Brunson is averaging a team-high 23.0 points per game. However, he’s shooting just 29.1 percent from the field and 16.7 percent from 3. A high usage player, he’s averaging 27.5 field goal attempts per game, nearly double the next-highest player’s.

Josh Hart is averaging the second-most points (21.5) and field goal attempts (14.5) per game, making 53.3 percent of his 3-point attempts. A career 34.4 percent shooter from deep, Hart could regress towards the mean sooner rather than later. Nonetheless, while Brunson remains their best shot-creator, Hart has been their most reliable scorer.

All of which brings to question if Brunson Ball is the best strategy for the Knicks.

New York is 13-14 when Brunson attempts at least 25 field goals, suggesting that he should cut that number down. To that end, increasing Hart’s output any further doesn’t seem feasible. However, the Knicks have several players shooting at least 40 percent from 3 this series.

If Brunson limits his more unlikely field goal conversions and makes a concerted effort to spray the ball to 3-point shooters, it serves at least three purposes.

For one, Hart, Donte DiVincenzo, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Miles McBride can continue to can their long-range attempts. These are the four players shooting at least 40 percent from 3 this season, with DiVincenzo and Bogdanovic the most proven deep threats.

Secondly, increasing OG Anunoby’s 3-point attempts could get him in better rhythm. As the saying goes, the best way to get a shooter going is for them to keep shooting. Converting a paltry 16.7 percent from 3 on 3.6 attempts per game, Anunoby has caught a cold. Nonetheless, over the past four seasons, he’s shot 38.2 percent from 3 on 5.8 attempts per game.

Lastly, Brunson leaning into his playmaking should soften up the middle of the defense. As the Knicks’ shooters make 3s, the Sixers will be more or less forced to stay home. That extra space could be all Brunson needs to get off a cleaner look than he’s been getting.

Unleashing Isaiah Hartenstein

In creating easier shot opportunities, the Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau should consider unleashing Isaiah Hartenstein’s passing game.

Whether in the post or rolling, Hartenstein can find players beyond the arc or near the rim. Though averaging a career-high 2.5 assists per game in 2023-24, the center averaged a career-high 4.7 assists per 36 minutes with the Los Angeles Clippers in 2021-22. Learning how to read defenses from Denver Nuggets playmaker Nikola Jokic when they were teammates the previous season, utilizing his full skillset could make the game much easier for the Knicks.


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