HOUSTON — The optics are bad and the complaints are loud.

Jalen Brunson, a small man relative to the giants he combats, often finishes the night with bruises and black eyes, the product of flying hands and elbows.

Who can forget the scene of Brunson lying on the Garden court against the Pacers, a new welt forming and the referee swallowing his whistle?

Or what about the rant from Tom Thibodeau about the lack of respect Brunson is getting from the officials? To quote the Knicks coach from Dec. 30: “He’s getting hammered time after time, and I’m just sick and tired of it.”

But are the gripes legitimate? Is Brunson getting hosed by the officials?

The numbers say probably not.

Brunson’s usage rate (29.1 percent, ranked 18th heading into Tuesday’s games) and free-throw attempts (6.3 per game, 18th in the NBA) are comparable.

He was 20th in free throw attempts per 36 minutes, ahead of Donovan Mitchell, Nikola Jokic and Kevin Durant.

He’s getting to the line approximate to his game, with the exception of his heavy drives per game not translating to as many foul shots as the players ahead of him (Brunson was third in drives behind only Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luka Doncic).

“Jalen takes a lot of long paint [non-restricted area] and midrange shots,” an Eastern Conference coach said. “Less than 20 percent of his shots are at the rim. Don’t get as many fouls out there, traditionally.

“He puts his body on the line and is physically tough. He hits the floor a lot. But he doesn’t necessarily draw fouls.”

That reality, however, hasn’t stopped the groundswell from fans that Brunson is denied the star treatment from officials, a sentiment that felt validated when ref Jacyn Goble whistled the point guard for a game-deciding phantom foul Monday in Houston, which led to the Knicks filing a protest with the league.

And there are certainly nights Brunson is shortchanged. Probably every player has the same complaint. But Brunson, like Trae Young, for instance, is difficult to officiate because he often initiates contact and embellishes.

“It depends on the night,” an NBA talent evaluator said. “He goes into the paint, pivots once, and then on the second pivot or fake, if he doesn’t have a shot, he will throw his arms open on contact.

“I think there are a lot of nights he gets screwed. But if he initiates contact, you don’t always get those calls. … Guys who create contact first are the hardest to officiate. Like [Shaquille O’Neal] in the old days. Or [James] Harden the last couple seasons.”

A Western Conference scout said Brunson’s body type may be a detriment.

“I wouldn’t say he is a flopper, but he embellishes to try and get calls,” the scout said. “He has a thin margin where he isn’t big and not overly quick. It’s why his footwork has to be so good. He needs every advantage.

“I think the calls largely depends on the person. Shai is an expert foul drawer, but does that mean he takes more contact or he just knows what they will call? Brunson has a strength and low center of gravity that makes it harder for contact to affect him, so it doesn’t look like he is taking as much contact.”

Brunson has been more animated during games about the officiating but avoided any critiques through the media. It’s mostly the fans and his head coach doing the talking on this subject. There’s a good argument Brunson should get calls commiserate to Young and Damian Lillard, who both take 1.6 more free throws per 36 minutes than the Knicks All-Star.

But the idea Brunson has no respect from the officials doesn’t quite pass the statistical test.

2024 © Network Today. All Rights Reserved.