Derek Harper chuckled at the narrative that was spun this week, that Jalen Brunson was being overpaid to join the Knicks.
Just wait and see, the Mavericks’ television analyst said. Watch how he impacts winning.
“People are going to be shocked at what Jalen Brunson brings to the floor every night,” Harper, arguably the Knicks’ last difference-maker at point guard, told The Post in a phone interview Friday, the day after Brunson agreed to a four-year, $104 million deal. “This guy is just special. … I think he’s underrated. Not until this year has he gotten the credit he deserves.
“He was a joy to watch, because the bigger the moment, the bigger he stood up, and I don’t think you can say that about everybody. A lot of guys shy away from big moments and adverse situations. That’s going to surprise some people.”
Nobody knows better than Harper what awaits the 25-year-old Brunson in New York. Like Brunson, he went from the Mavericks to the Knicks, albeit in a trade, not through free agency. There were high expectations for Harper as he joined a title contender he then helped reach the 1994 NBA Finals. It took time for him to acclimate to the pressure-cooker that is playing point guard for the Knicks, but he doesn’t expect that to be an issue for Brunson.
“Built for it, born for it,” said Harper, who played parts of three seasons with the Knicks, from 1994-96, and averaged 11.7 points, 4.8 assists and 1.3 steals, helping them to a pair of 50-win seasons and five playoff series victories. “There are some guys that are cerebral enough that you can put them in a cage anywhere and they’re going to fight their way out, and that’s Jalen. Jalen is not in awe of any player in this league. In fact, he wants to prove himself against the best.”
Brunson grew up in southern New Jersey, and he has strong ties throughout the Knicks organization. Team president Leon Rose is his former agent. Rose’s son, Sam, is his current rep. Brunson has prior relationships with coach Tom Thibodeau and veteran guard Derrick Rose. His father, Rick, was recently added to Thibodeau’s staff. Brunson knows what he’s in for.
Harper is so confident in Brunson in part because he has watched his development up close, from a second-round pick in 2018 to a backup to a starter and most recently a breakout playoff performer. He has seen how hard, and diligently, he works.
Harper jokingly refers to himself as the president of the Jalen Brunson Fan Club, a group he expects to expand in New York. Harper said he believes that in time, Brunson will not only be worth the big contract he just received, but possibly even outplay it.
“I just see a leader in Jalen, that’s the reason why I root for him so hard,” Harper said.
Harper was torn this week once reports began to emerge that Brunson was headed to the Knicks. He was happy that he was able to land a huge contract in the place he once called home, but disappointed that his days calling Brunson’s games were over. He grew fond of the southpaw, not just the player he had become, but the high-character person, too.
Harper will now have to follow him from a distance. The Mavericks’ loss is the Knicks’ gain.
When it was suggested to Harper that, at least on paper, Brunson is the Knicks’ best point guard since he was running the show, he laughed.
“Man, I’m 60 years old,” Harper said.
That just illustrates what a massive problem the position has been for the Knicks over the past 25 years. But the last man to play that spot consistently well for them thinks they have found the right guy.
“I promise Knicks fans that they won’t be disappointed in Jalen,” Harper said. “He’s flat-out one of the better young point guards in this league. He’s not one of these guys that’s going to get $100 million and not continue to work at his craft and reach a different height.
“There’s more to come with Jalen Brunson. You saw what he did during the playoffs. … They have a solid point guard for a long time to come.”
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