Why the 2024 NBA Playoffs can forever change Jalen Brunson’s legacy

Philadelphia 76ers v New York Knicks - Game Two
Philadelphia 76ers v New York Knicks - Game Two / Sarah Stier/GettyImages

To be the King of New York, you have to be willing to fight for the crown. The New York Knicks have earned a 2-0 lead in their first round playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers and even though he’s struggled thus far, Jalen Brunson has a chance to alter his standing within the association. 

It could be said that the true test of a superstar is how they respond under duress. Brunson has played with a chip on his shoulder during his entire time in New York, and  working through some early playoff woes could permanently quiet the prognosticators.

“I said it last time: I could play bad again and we win; that’s fine for me,” Brunson told the New York Post after the Knicks’ Game 2 victory. “Obviously, I want to play better, but to the point where we’re all sticking together no matter what, whatever the situation is, we’re going to have each other’s back. So whatever’s working at the time, we’re just going to keep going to it.”

Brunson shot 8-26 from the field in the first game of the series and could only muster an 8-29 clip in the Game 2. He drilled a critical three-pointer late in the second contest, but has not been as crisp as expected.

Why the 2024 NBA Playoffs can forever change Jalen Brunson’s legacy

Philadelphia has done a fine job of making the 27-year old work for every look on the offensive end. Given that New York is without arguably their second-best player, Julius Randle, the Sixers have paid extra attention to Brunson while forcing others like Josh Hart and Donte DiVincenzo to score.

Last season, Brunson nearly willed the Knicks to a Game 7 against the Miami Heat in the second round. He scored 41 points in the elimination affair. The New Jersey native has already proven he can perform well in postseason play, but he has not yet played against a team that is fully prepared to zone in on him defensively.

Miami and the Cleveland Cavaliers certainly understood that Brunson would be dangerous last spring, but the mere presence of Randle meant that Brunson would have more wiggle room. Hart, DiVincenzo, and OG Anunoby can all score, but none of these players are the same threat as Brunson or Randle. Philly’s defense understands this, and Brunson has struggled as a result.

LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, and others who may (or may not) be considered “superstars” have all had to work under similar conditions. Even if the final stat lines are not pretty, Brunson could undoubtedly aid his NBA image if he’s able to work around the 76ers and make timely baskets.

He made one of Game 2’s biggest shots, and while it got lost in the shuffle after the final seconds of chaos, it’s not outlandish to say that more makes like that one this postseason will help Brunson's reputation.