Is Jalen Brunson the Answer to Knicks' PG Problems Amid Free-Agency Rumors?

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 17, 2022

Is Jalen Brunson the Answer to Knicks' PG Problems Amid Free-Agency Rumors?

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    The New York Knicks need a new point guard.

    Unless, of course, the answer to this decades-long problem is already on the roster.

    While New York is expected to "aggressively pursue" Jalen Brunson in free agency, per B/R's Jake Fischer, there are plenty of potential Plan B alternatives worth exploring. And that's assuming Brunson deserves to carry Plan A status into the summer.

    Let's first tackle the idea of going all-in on the 25-year-old before examining the other potential options at play.

Should Brunson Top the Summer Wish List?

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    In a word, yes, but there are caveats attached.

    Brunson would be the Knicks' best option at the position in years, but he's not quite a max-contract type of star. This was his breakout season, and he still averaged just 16.3 points and 4.8 assists per outing. Those are good numbers; they're just not great.

    While the fact that he has just four seasons under his belt suggests ample room for growth, his looming 26th birthday (August 31) could put a cap on his ceiling.

    In other words, New York should be careful about just forking over a blank check. The problem is it might take that type of pursuit to pry him away from the Dallas Mavericks—and even that may not be enough.

    A source close to Dallas Mavericks governor Mark Cuban told Marc Berman of the New York Post they would be "shocked" if Dallas doesn't re-sign Brunson. A previous report from ESPN's Tim MacMahon said the Mavericks have "no intention of cooperating in potential sign-and-trade scenarios," which the Knicks would almost certainly need to get the Villanova product to Gotham.

    The interest in Brunson makes sense, because if he came on board for the right price, the Knicks might finally find their missing puzzle piece. Given how complicated the pursuit may be, though, and the real possibility he won't seek out a scenery change if the Mavs put their money where their mouth is, New York should at least be considering all alternatives.

The External Alternatives

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    If Brunson isn't happening, the Knicks have several potential directions to take.

    One option, offered by Fischer, would be brokering a trade for Utah Jazz point guard Mike Conley.

    The 34-year-old had a brutal showing during the Jazz's first-round loss to the Dallas Mavericks, but prior to that, he seemed as steady as ever. His 13.7 points were his fewest in a decade, but he still splashed 40.8 percent of his long-range looks and more than tripled his 1.7 turnovers with 5.3 assists.

    The problem is he's owed $22.7 million for next season, per Spotrac, and his production just won't match up to his pay rate. Knicks fans could argue the same is true of Evan Fournier, whom Fischer speculated could fit in a Conley trade, although it's probably easier fitting a 29-year-old, 6'7" sharpshooter onto a roster than it would be an aging, 6'1" point guard with significant defense concerns.

    The Knicks could drop down a tier in free agency and push hard for someone like Tyus Jones, who is a feisty (albeit undersized) defender and expert decision-maker (4.4 assists against 0.6 turnovers). However, since New York's top scorers, Julius Randle and RJ Barrett, aren't knockdown shooters, the 'Bockers would need to be big believers in Jones' shooting spike (career-high 39 percent), which it should be noted came on low volume (2.8 attempts per contest).

    If the draft lottery goes in New York's favor, perhaps it climbs in position to nab Purdue's Jaden Ivey with a top-four pick. If the Knicks see Barrett as their long-term centerpiece, prioritizing a talent like Ivey could help align their organizational timeline.

Could the Knicks Already Have Their Point Guard In-House?

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    While mentioning the possibility of a Conley pursuit, Fischer noted "some New York staffers would prefer to look internally and give second-year guard Immanuel Quickley an earnest chance at emerging as the team's starting point guard."

    Is that optimism-fueled wishful thinking, or might those staffers be onto something?

    Not to go the cop-out route here, but I'd say it depends on what the Knicks are trying to build. If they want a pass-first point guard in the traditional sense, Quickley isn't that player. He is programmed more to score than to pass, as evidenced by his career per-36-minutes averages of 19.1 points and 4.8 assists.

    However, if New York thinks it can squeeze enough ball-moving out of other players—namely, Randle and Barrett—then Quickley could be perfectly competent as a scoring guard who serves as a secondary playmaker. He has a soft touch on his floater, appears no worse than average from three (career 36.5 percent) and has enough handles to ditch defenders off of the dribble.

    If the Knicks want to give Quickley a look, there is justification for doing so. To hedge on the investment, though, it might make sense to nab another point guard this summer, whether that's Jones as a high-minute backup or a less-decorated prospect like the G League Ignite's Dyson Daniels, who keeps the ball moving, defends all over the perimeter and has more than enough size (6'8") to share the floor with Quickley.