Is Jalen Brunson a better all-time Knick than Carmelo Anthony?

Comparing the two greatest Knicks of the last two decades.
Jalen Brunson is becoming the hero that MSG desperately needs
Jalen Brunson is becoming the hero that MSG desperately needs / Sarah Stier/GettyImages

When the final buzzer sounds this Sunday at Madison Square Garden signaling the conclusion of the New York Knicks’ 2023-24 regular season, Jalen Brunson will have officially become the first Knick in a decade to finish an NBA season as a top-5 scorer in the league.

In fact, no Knick since Carmelo Anthony in 2013-14 has finished as even a top-10 scorer.

Brunson currently sits at 4th in the NBA in scoring at 28.2 points per game over 73 games played this season, fixed affirmably between Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in 3rd (30.3 points per game) and Kevin Durant in 5th (27.4 points per game).

Such a breakthrough into the highest echelon of NBA scoring — taken together with Brunson’s elite playmaking (6.7 assists per game this season) and, to the overwhelming joy of Knicks fans, team success — has certified Brunson as the best Knick since Anthony.

The most passionate of Jalen Brunson diehards will also remind you that Brunson provides championship qualities like defensive toughness and leadership that Melo never embodied. 

Still, it would be premature to crown Brunson as a better Knick than Carmelo Anthony today, mostly because Brunson, in just his second year with New York, has played only 141 regular season games and 11 playoff games for the Knicks compared with Melo’s 412 regular season games and 21 playoff games across seven seasons.

What’s more, Brunson and Melo don’t truly belong in the same sentence as offensive threats. Brunson’s scoring may best Anthony’s 2013-14 average of 27.4 points per game, but there’s the recent inflation of NBA scoring figures to consider. Furthermore, in the season prior to ‘13-'14, Carmelo averaged 28.7 ppg and finished third in MVP voting, a peak Brunson will likely never reach.

In a wider sense, Anthony is seen as one of the most gifted scorers in NBA history, and such a description will likely never be applied to Brunson.

This does not mean that Brunson will not become a greater New York Knick than Carmelo Anthony, however.

Jalen Brunson can become a better Knick than Melo was in a matter of weeks

Believe it or not, Brunson has a chance these coming playoffs to rise above Melo in Knicks lore. Brunson can do this if he is able to lead the Knicks to a Conference Finals, something Melo was never able to accomplish.

With crucial Eastern Conference seeding still undetermined, New York will be playing hard for the 3-seed in the season’s final few games. Falling to fourth or fifth in the East would inevitably mean a date with the Boston Celtics in the second round, more than likely a dead-end road.

On the other hand, if Brunson and the Knicks can secure the 3-seed, they will be faced with a pair of winnable series and thus a tenable path to the Eastern Conference Finals. Although New York’s playoff ceiling might appear to have lowered in the wake of Julius Randle’s season-ending injury, the East besides Boston is wide open right now, with no one besides the Celtics playing championship basketball.

The Conference Finals are not unfamiliar territory for Brunson. He reached the WCF alongside Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks just two seasons ago.

Of course, a second trip to a Conference Finals, this time as the leader of a team, would be a far more impressive and legacy-boosting accomplishment for Brunson. It would also solidify Brunson as the present-day king of New York basketball.

Brunson lacks only longevity and an ECF appearance on his Knicks resume to usurp Carmelo Anthony as the best Knick in recent memory.  Though he will never be the talented scorer that Melo was, Brunson’s already shown a more acute propensity for high-level winning in the way that he’s lifted this year’s Knicks roster to greater heights than anyone expected.

At just 27 years old and presumably the start of his prime, Jalen Brunson is in position these playoffs to become an even more adored hero than Carmelo Anthony was within Madison Square Garden, an arena that prizes a winner above all else but has nonetheless been starved for one since the turn of the century.