In the minds of many Knicks fans, Julius Randle is a pest who stunts the growth of his younger teammates and must be traded post haste. Unfortunately, it seems like there wasn’t much of a market for Randle’s services this offseason, so now a new rallying cry has begun: Randle should come off the bench.
️ KFS POD ️@JCMacriNBA & @TheCohencidence have the obligatory Julius Randle conversation, this time debating how productive he would be coming off the bench this season.— Knicks Film School (@KnickSchool) December 15, 2020
WATCH: https://t.co/pI48PZXIIi pic.twitter.com/OUCQML7SoS
Hate to break it to you, but Randle isn’t going to suddenly become a sixth man. Not this year, not on this team. The idea is fine. It’s actually something fans consider all the time. Player X, who is clearly among the most talented players on Team Y, should come off the bench because he would be so much better than the second units of opponents.
For instance, in theory, Tim Hardaway Jr. might have made a nice sixth man during his second stint in New York, as he would have provided a much needed scoring boost off the bench. But who was going to start over him? A 24-year-old Damyean Dotson? Well, maybe that wouldn’t have been so horrible. But that’s besides the point.
Ex-Knick Damyean Dotson started at SG last night in Cavaliers' preseason game and will revisit MSG tomorrow. In two games, Dotson averaging 10.5 points, playing 24 minutes per. Launched seven 3's Monday.— Marc Berman (@NYPost_Berman) December 15, 2020
For Better Or Worse, Randle Is The Best Player On The Knicks
Fans get so invested in the team that they can sometimes get a little out of control in thinking that they know better than the coaches and executives. To be fair, when it comes to the Knicks in recent seasons, the fans have probably been right in many cases.
But no matter how you feel about him, Randle is the best and highest-paid player on the Knicks right now. He’s certainly not going to offer to come off the bench, and Tom Thibodeau hasn’t come close to even hinting that Randle could eventually become a sixth man. In fact, Thibs has done nothing but heap praise upon Randle to date.
Meanwhile, in the second preseason game against the Detroit Pistons, Thibs played the power forward 32 minutes, second most on the team behind RJ Barrett. In the first preseason game, Randle was on the court for 33 minutes, more than anyone else on the Knicks.
Try to think about it from the perspective of Thibs: Randle, 25, is in his sixth NBA season and coming off a year in which he averaged 19.5 points, 9.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game. He’s the only player on the roster to ever average 20-plus points per game in a season (21.4 for New Orleans in 2018-19), with the next closest being Austin Rivers, who once averaged 15 points per contest.
The other best players on these Knicks all still have a lot of maturing to do. Barrett is probably the most polished of the youths, but he’s heading into his second season and isn’t a lights out shooter by any means. The glossy sheen that protected Mitchell Robinson for the last two years has started to become less shiny because there are now expectations he needs to meet this season. Frank Ntilikina is either not an actual NBA-caliber talent or the player on the team with the most potential, depending which fan you ask. Everyone is still hoping that the first two preseason performances from Kevin Knox will be an aberration when all is said and done this year.
Finally, we’d all love to see Obi Toppin get lots of run. But through two preseason games he has looked very much like a rookie. The Knicks aren’t about to start Toppin over Randle.
Tanking Isn’t An Option
Even with all of the above having been laid out, there will still be people who argue that Randle’s presence in the starting lineup is detrimental to the Knicks. Either he’s a ball-hogging turnover machine who makes the team bad, or his presence makes the Knicks a little bit too much better than absolutely horrible.
The current Knicks are a team of the future, the argument will go, so the youngins should be given responsibility and the veterans should merely be there to clap from the sidelines when their teammates do something good.
First things first: Thibs isn’t going to tank. Second things second: we learned after the 2019 lottery that the NBA’s new rules de-incentivize tanking. Nowadays, the three worst teams in the NBA each have the same chance at landing the first pick, and that chance is only 14%, so is it really worth it to purposely lose all the time?
This Sort Of Thing Just Doesn’t Happen
It’s really as simple as this: guys who perform at Randle’s level don’t want to come off the bench, and coaches enjoy being able to start players who can be trusted to be consistent. In fact, in looking back at recent Six Man of the Year Award winners, it becomes clear that, usually, the top bench guy on a good team is only the sixth man because the franchise is flush with scoring.
Last year, Montrezl Harrell averaged almost 19 points and about 7 rebounds off the bench for the Clippers. If the Clippers didn’t feature Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and Ivica Zubac, does anyone believe Harrell wouldn’t have been among the team’s five starters?
The two seasons before that, Lou Williams won back to back Six Man of the Year Awards on a Clippers’ team that featured bonafide NBA starters like Danillo Gallinari and Tobias Harris. When Eric Gordon was awarded the Six Man trophy in 2016-17, he served as a bench scorer for when James Harden needed to rest.
You can go on and on and on with this; the point is that Randle isn’t in a role where his scoring and playmaking is excess. Most of the time, he’s the only player on the Knicks with a prayer of being the best player on the court. Barrett looks like he could get there, but RJ is in his second season and is only 20-years-old.
This season is going to include plenty of frustration, mixed with some moments of hope as Barrett and other young Knicks display promise. All along, Thibodeau is going to try to put the best product on the court that he can. Right now, his five best players include number 30, and until another team makes a suitable offer to wrangle Randle from New York via trade, he’s going to be featured in the starting lineup.