Jalen Brunson Talks Knicks And The ‘Never-Ending’ Process Of Learning As A Point Guard

INDIANAPOLIS — Jalen Brunson has steadily evolved over his career. From a solid backup to a starter and quality No. 2 with the Dallas Mavericks, Brunson has blossomed into an All-Star and the unquestioned leader of the New York Knicks.

Brunson’s play this season, averaging 27.6 points and 6.5 assists per game, has helped the Knicks take hold of the 4-seed in the East at the All-Star break, even with some significant absences due to injuries in recent weeks. After an active trade deadline, the Knicks are poised to be a real threat in the Eastern Conference once they get healthy, and their star guard (who has proven himself as a postseason performer) is a big reason why.

At his first All-Star weekend as a participant in Sunday’s game, Brunson is plenty busy — he’s also participating in Saturday night’s Starry Three-Point Contest. Ahead of that, Brunson sat down with Dime at NBA Crossover on Friday afternoon for a conversation about the Knicks, Villanova, the process of becoming a leader on the court and controlling the game as a point guard, the challenges of the Three-Point Contest, and his enjoyment of the most ubiquitous beverage in Indianapolis on All-Star Weekend.

I know there’s a lot going on for you this weekend, but what do you have going on with Starry here at Crossover and then obviously the Three-Point Shootout Saturday night?

I’m just excited to be partnering with Starry. Starry, it really hits different, I mean, it’s my go to lemon-lime soda — it’s crisp, it’s refreshing — and I’m just happy to be a part of it. I’m also happy to be participating in the Starry Three-Point Shootout and then obviously the All-Star Game, so it’s gonna be a big weekend.

How do you go about Three-Point Shootout prep? Like, what’s your process?

You just got to practice shooting off the rack. I think that’s the weirdest thing. And you don’t have time to sit there and hold your follow through and watch it go in, and then you gotta get back on defense. You’re just boom, boom. But, I think it’s cool. I think it’s a unique experience and it’s a different type of competition, but still competition at the end of the day.

Where’s your money ball rack placement?

Right corner, last rack.

Is that just so you know if you need it, you’ve got it?

For sure, yeah. I also think it’s just, the corner shot in the NBA is the easiest shot, it’s the closest. And then I think that’s one way to kind of get warm for that rack, so I think it’s pretty good.

Let’s talk a little Knicks. As you get ready for the second half of season, you got some new guys coming in that you’re working in like Bojan [Bogdanovic]. And then you’re also gonna get some of your guys that are hurt back hopefully soon. How important is the second half of the season in re-establishing that rhythm as you get ready for the postseason?

Yeah, I think it’s really important. Obviously, we want everyone back 100 percent. So I think for us, especially with the new guys we have coming in, Alec [Burks] has been with Thibs before, but with Bojan, making sure that he knows exactly what we’re doing on both sides of the ball. We just gotta be ready to go. We can’t lose sight of what’s at stake. We gotta have that same focus, that same mindset. And we’ll find a way. We’ll find a way to get better every single day. That’s just our goal.

As a point guard, what’s been your development in terms of learning the feel of how keeping your teammates involved keeping yourself going, that balance of attacking and facilitating? And what is the process as a young point guard in the NBA of learning that leadership role on the floor and of controlling the game.

So, it’s never ending. You kind of have to go with the flow. You can never just predetermine what you’re going to do or how things are going to play out during the game. And I think for me, I’m always trying to be aggressive to make plays, whether it’s from myself or for my teammates. So, find the ways to have the defense collapse where you can see openings for others or yourself.

So, it’s a healthy balance, but I think the most important part about it is always being in attack mode, whether it’s to shoot to score, make sure the defense is on its heels, and just giving your teammates confidence. Obviously, everyone assumes that getting assists kind of helps with getting your teammates involved, but I think giving them confidence and making sure that they know that they’re able to do the stuff that they do on a nightly basis is important. So, I try and do it as much as I can.

You’ve known Thibs for a long time.

Long time.

Do you have a favorite Thibs story from before you played for him that you look back on and just laugh about now that you play for him in the NBA?

Damn [laughs]. Favorite Thibs story before I played for him? It’s not really a story, but when people who see Thibs from afar think he’s a guy who just yells all the time and is always just basketball, basketball, basketball — which he is, 100 percent — but he’s a great dude off the court. So, he’s a great person to hold a conversation with and really get to know and he’s just … he’s a genuine dude.

Obviously you have a bunch of ‘Nova guys on the team. I wanted to know what you think it is about coming from Villanova and what Coach Wright especially had you guys doing that has allowed so many guys to come into league and have the success they’ve had so quickly, and in various roles? It seems like guys are able to come into the league and find their comfort level quickly, and I wondered if you think there’s specific reason for that?

I think Coach Wright preaches team first. So, team first and having the right attitude in whatever role you’re in. And I think at Villanova, we’ve all been in different roles throughout our time there. And so I think the most important thing to us is winning, and what can we do to win, and how can we approach each game with the right attitude and right mindset? And that’s been Coach Wright’s thing for the for the longest time, and it’s helped us get to where we are, and so he definitely is a major part in our success.

Last thing real fast: Who picks up the bill at dinner between you and Josh [Hart]?

[laughs] I would say me. I would say me. He owes me next time, though.