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Knicks Round(ball) Table: The Julius Randle question

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Much of the season will depend on how they handle Randle.

Cleveland Cavaliers v New York Knicks Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Sorry folks, but we need to talk some more about Julius Randle. Enjoy!

Will Julius Randle spend most of the season in the Knicks’ starting rotation?

Joe: Yes. To me, this says nearly as much about Obi Toppin as it does about Randle. Toppin was presented to fans as perhaps the most NBA-ready rookie, at least on offense, but I didn’t really see that during the preseason. Sure, the passing is top-notch, but it seems like Toppin was ill-prepared to score against NBA-level athletes. The jumper wasn’t falling, and he struggled getting to the rim if he wasn’t wide open on a baseline cut. The scoring should come with time and second unit reps, but for now it won’t be enough to dislodge Randle, whom the team seems to genuinely like. Hopefully Toppin will grab the starting role by the end of the season.

Stingy: Mostly a hard agree here. I think Obi’s passing was maybe even a little underrepresented; he puts some habanero in the salsa. He also is a little more lithe and fleet of foot against NBA’ers than I anticipated. Regardless, he’s working from a strength and timing disadvantage as he comes together with a team that is mostly devoid of high-level playmaking. I think it’s totally reasonable that he could take Randle’s spot by season’s end, but he hasn’t shown enough to supplant him in the starting lineup for now and unless the shooting just blows the doors off the hinges suddenly, I think we’ll be waiting until Randle is gone or just totally sick of having to pass to his teammates.

Bootum: I agree, too. Perhaps when they said NBA-ready, it was short for being NBA-ready to come off the bench for Julius Randle. Considering Tom Thibodeau’s affinity towards vets, slowly bringing in young guys, and, well, his stance that they base who starts off performance, it’s hard to see Toppin starting soon and Randle coming off the bench based off preseason. There’s definitely a push to get Randle right and still get some value out of him, especially with Kenny Payne and the Kentucky connection. After preseason, Randle has shown signs of being redeemable, so until it’s shown otherwise, that’s where he’ll stay, especially if they feel the pressure to start Immanuel Quickley over another vet presence.

Miranda: Randle has started 79% of his games over six seasons and missed just four games per year over the past five, so I’m guessing Toppin’s preseason shooting 38% from the floor and 9% from deep isn’t an imminent threat. And honestly, Randle isn’t the vet I’m most hoping gets supplanted by a rookie sooner than later. Call on line one, Mr. Payton.

BennyBuckets: For better or worse, Randle will be the starting power forward for as long as he’s on the Knicks (at least throughout his current contract, which ends after this season unless the Knicks pick up his option). He could, of course, be traded mid-season, especially if Thibs can coach him towards his better tendencies in order to make him a more attractive asset. As for Toppin, it’s always exciting to watch a lottery pick, but he’s got a long, long way to go before anyone is going to seriously consider starting him over Randle.

Will we see more Preseason Game 3 Randle (spinning and not-winning) or Preseason Game 4 Randle (passing and trusting teammates)?

Joe: Game 3 Randle. For a visual refresher, this is what Game 3 Randle looks like:

That’s the Randle we mostly saw last year — pissing off fans, teammates, and even Clyde. The Knicks came back to win that game, but with Randle languishing on the bench.

Game 4 Randle, on the other hand, helped spearhead a dominant Knicks offense despite only taking 6 shots. He finished with a team-high 8 assists and generally played within the flow of the offense, trusting his teammates and getting the ball out quickly (and often to Quickley).

Sadly, I think we’ll see more Game 3 Randle this season. Randle and ball-hogging have a symbiotic relationship: when the going gets tough, he usually reverts to his old “spin into the triple-team” ways. Things won’t come as easily as they did against Cleveland, so it’ll be up to Thibs to pry the ball out of Randle’s hands.

Stingy: Game 3 Randle is just who he is. So we’ll see it. He wants to slam dance, you gotta let him Randolph Morris his way into people a little bit. As much as we want everyone except Julius to feel good, he has to feel the joy of the game too. But if Frank Ntilikina’s shooting improves and Quickley, Reggie Bullock, Alec Burks and Austin Rivers can provide some legit spacing while either fully removing — or at least profoundly diminishing — the roles of Dennis Smith Jr. and Elfrid Payton, there is enough lead guard juice to give Randle some actual space in the middle of the court.

Bootum: We have seen Randle take nearly six fewer shots a game in preseason as he did last year in the regular season. I think Good or Bad Randle depends a lot on the answer to the first question, and who else starts next to him. The more Payton we see, the more Randle-y Randle is likely to get. If Quickley is getting heavy minutes and can keep the ball moving like he did in his start, Randle is more likely to do what he’s best and generally very good at — being a play finisher — and will be more likely to keep the ball moving himself. If it’s more of the Payton-style ball movement of moving it between himself and Julius for 24 seconds, more bad JuJu to come.

Miranda: I choose optimism. I choose to believe Game 3 Randle, which was basically 2020 Randle, is a dying ember of PTS from a player miscast last year and stuck trying to do things he couldn’t because no one else could or would. I think Point Randle is a more likely outcome this year than Kobe Randle. With the season yet to begin, I enjoy the luxury of choice.

BennyBuckets: For the moment, Game 3 Randle is the real Randle, which makes it even more frustrating when he does play the way he did in Game 4. Like, he can play selflessly and without turning the ball over once every few possessions, he just usually chooses not to. The end of the preseason has us all flying high, but most nights in the regular season, the opponent is going to be better and more cohesive than the Knicks, and Randle will feel he has to revert to Game 3 Randle, which in his mind is the best player on the court no matter who is playing.

How does Randle’s Knicks tenure end: traded, bought out, leaves via free agency, or re-signed?

Joe: Leaves via free agency. That “re-signed” choice sent a tingle down your spine, didn’t it? Believe it or not, I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility for the Knicks to bring him back, given the Kentucky connection. However, this season should hopefully be about transitioning from a Randle-focused offense to an RJ Barrett-focused offense, and keeping Randle around might make that a bit awkward. I’d love for him to get traded, but let’s be realistic here.

Stingy: Going back to the last question, if there is a more Game 4 than Game 3 Randle, you have a legit trade piece that a lot of people will want to keep around because of the contract! Conversely, he may have a market! It’s not an astronomical cap hit for a team looking to add talent at the trade deadline. It’s also not something that makes the Knicks sink or swim if they pick up his option. It’s not chump change, just shy of $20M; it’s an overpay for an expiring deal (this year or next, dealer’s choice) that’s a little less than a fifth of the salary cap. In my ideal he is gone in something much like the Marcus Morris deal. If he sticks around, maybe it would be nice to decline the option and give him three years and more like $12M per. One way or another, keeping him to be used as an asset in a trade is the way to go.

Bootum: I would love to see him traded or bought out, but I don’t see the first being a feasible option at this point and I don’t see us going as far as buying him out after starting him all four games. I think most likely we’ll waive him on his oh-so team-friendly contract this summer, leaving a $4.5 million cap hit. While an unlikely return that should have been obvious in hindsight could be in the cards like it was with Elf, I think it’s far less likely. Most agreed the Knicks did need to bring in some vet point guard; most just agreed it shouldn’t be Payton.

Eventually you do have to accept it is [current year] and that Randle isn’t fulfilling any team needs for you, or really any team, which is why it’s hard for me to see him traded at his price tag. For a team to trade for Randle, they have to decide they need big man scoring so bad that they don’t care about the fact he provides nothing on defense or in floor spacing and that you will either have to pay roughly $5M for him not to be on your team next season or $19M to be there. The salaries need to match, and the Knicks also have to not be taking on a worse/longer contract. I just don’t know any team this season or in any recent seasons that would fit that bill.

Miranda: Traded. He’s basically an expiring contract who could balance salaries when/if the next star who wants out goes public. The return may not seem like much, but sometimes that works for the best. Remember the humdrum reception to the 2nd-round pick Carmelo Anthony yielded? That became Mitchell Robinson. And Marcus Morris turned into the pick that was traded twice before netting Quickley.

BennyBuckets: Really and truly hate to say this, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Knicks pick up Randle’s $19.8 million option for next year. He’s the most well-established pro on the team, and if the Knicks do show significant improvement this year it will likely be, in addition to development from some of the youngsters, because there was enough Game 4 Randle to make the front office believe he can change for good. On the other hand, he’s a remnant of the previous front office, so maybe, in secret, Leon Rose simply cannot wait to get rid of Randle and will either jump at a decent trade offer or let him walk after the season. You really never know what is going to happen, even when you think you do.