After the Knicks rattled off four straight wins last week, point guard Jalen Brunson was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week. Brunson quickly silenced any doubts about how his performance would be impacted without RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley by averaging 27.3 points per game and 9.3 assists per game, a clear sign he has taken the reins of the offense.
It’s no surprise Brunson earned the award as New York currently holds the longest active win streak in the NBA. Behind Brunson and Julius Randle, Tom Thibodeau’s squad seems to be clicking at the right time. Randle seems to have finally exorcised the demons that plagued him to start the season, as he has been the team’s leading scorer in three out of four games during the win streak.
Now running alongside Donte DiVincenzo and OG Anunoby in the starting lineup, Brunson has taken a big step as a facilitator. He has put up double-digit assists in two out of the last four games, the first time any Knicks player has reached that mark this year. The lineup as a whole has fit together seamlessly, with an offensive rating of 121.4 and a defensive rating of 105.4.
The way Brunson has been able to direct traffic on the offensive end with Anunoby now in the mix has ushered in a new approach. The starting five has a 73% assist rate, the highest of any lineup combination that has played more than 30 minutes together this season. They are also getting more clean looks and opportunities for one another and cashing in. With an effective field goal percentage of .605, the offense is not only moving the ball effectively to create open looks, but they are knocking down those shots as well.
New York currently sits as the No. 8 seed in the East, but this recent hot streak has them right in the mix. There are five teams tied with a 21-15 record right now, an indication of how competitive the conference is as a whole. A spot in the top four is not out of reach, as the tiers begin to become more defined as the season progresses.
The Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, and Philadelphia 76ers have begun to distance themselves from the pack, but the middle tier behind them is wide open. There is certainly lots of talent and young teams in the middle of the pack, including the Orlando Magic, Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat, and Cleveland Cavaliers.
While we are approaching the halfway mark of the season, whether or not the Knicks can sustain the early success of their new starting five will likely determine where they end up in the standings. With both Brunson and Randle clicking simultaneously, a charge to a top-four seed is not out of the question.