Julius Randle received a lukewarm welcome this year considering he led the Knicks in points and rebounds, but while the 25-year-old big man might not even finish out his contract in New York, he has undeniable talent that sometimes gets obscured by unfortunate flaws.
Randle came to the Knicks under weird circumstances — he was the de facto replacement for Kristaps Porzingis — so his arrival didn’t warrant an anointment. Still, he was the most significant free agent acquisition last summer after the franchise embarrassingly whiffed on Plan A. Randle’s deal is worth $63 million over three years, but that last season is a team option, and the Knicks were already reportedly shopping him at the trade deadline. Meanwhile, reports say Leon Rose might be open to dealing Randle, despite their Creative Arts Agency connection.
At his best, Randle appears as though he could be a formidable second- or third-in-command, but at his worst it seems like his very style of play is the reason his teams have often struggled in the NBA.
Is Randle worth building around or trading? It’s quite the question. Let’s explore.
Randle’s Upward Trajectory Stalled In New York
Before signing with the Knicks, Randle had steadily improved in each of his first five seasons, culminating in a 2018-19 campaign when he posted 21 points, 9 rebounds and 3 assists per game while shooting a career-high 34% from three. Coming to the Eastern Conference, it wasn’t crazy to think that, if Randle could keep that momentum going and lift the Knicks towards respectability, he might receive All-Star consideration.
Alas, the Knicks began the season 4-18 and Randle struggled in the driver’s seat, where he sat after David Fizdale handed him the keys to the offense by declaring him a point forward during preseason. What isn’t Fizdale’s fault is how often Randle would wildly careen into the lane and turn the ball over. Randle coughed the ball up three times a game this season, worst on the Knicks and technically tied for 12th worst in the NBA.
Not only did Randle struggle to string together complete games with consistency, he lost the three-point shot he had found a season ago. He was shooting 24% from deep when Fizdale got fired in December, and through 64 games this year shot 27.7% on a career-high 3.6 treys per game, which is more than double his career average of 1.5 three-point attempts per contest. Although Randle is shooting more threes than ever, he only looks comfortable occasionally when lining up from beyond the arc, creating concerns that last year’s career best was more of a blip than a trend.
His inability to seem like a threat from outside enables defenders to stay close to the key, which makes it more difficult for people like R.J. Barrett to find open lanes to the hoop. It also congests things inside for Mitchell Robinson.
This Sounds Bleak, But Randle Is Still Really Good At Basketball
Now that we’ve digested some of his shortcomings, it’s time to acknowledge Randle’s abilities on the basketball court, which are plentiful. He can be craftier than given credit for when he’s close to the basket, and sometimes his handle holds up on drives, which can result in fantastic finishes. He also displayed a knack for tossing some dazzling dimes at times, and his 3.1 assists per game was second best on the Knicks, behind only Elfird Payton and just ahead of Frank Ntillikina.
Randle put up basically 20 points, 10 rebounds and 3 assists a night this year, which might not be the best stat line in history but is still something that only five Knicks players, including Randle, have accomplished in the 74 years the franchise has existed, per Basketball-Reference.com.
You know the old saying: they don’t grow 20 and 10 guys on trees. And giving away such a player for no good reason can have serious consequences for a franchise, as the Knicks hopefully now realize.
Randle is not a number one guy, and if he’s going to be one of your top three then at least one of the other players should really be a proficient three-point shooter. The truth is that the Knicks didn’t put Randle in a great position to succeed this year, and spacing will always be a problem if the team relies mostly on him, Barrett and Robinson. The only Knick who shot over 40% from deep this year was current Los Angeles Clipper Marcus Morris, and two of the next three best three-point shooters on the team, Damyean Dotson and Allonzo Trier, could barely get on the court.
Sometimes Randle Looks Like A Superstar
It obviously matters that he didn’t play like a superstar with much consistency this year, but Randle put forth enough monster efforts to show that he has the talent to rumble with the big boys. On December 28, for instance, he had 30 points, 16 rebounds and 6 assists (5 turnovers too) in a 7-point victory over the Washington Wizards.
These highlights from that game are vertical instead of horizontal for some reason:
That spectacular night was part of a three-game stretch in which Randle scored at least 30 points each night and the Knicks went 2-1. In those three games, Randle averaged 33 points, 10 rebounds and 3 assists while shooting 53% from the field and 48% from deep.
In a February loss to the Atlanta Hawks, Randle had 35 points, 18 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal and 1 block. Sure, the Knicks lost by five, but New York lost 68% of the time this year, and of their 45 total losses, 20 were by 10 or more points. So this counts as a positive effort from Randle.
In case you aren’t cool with including a loss here, Randle made up for it with 33 points (13-22 from the field, 3-6 from deep), 11 rebounds and 3 assists in what currently counts as the final game of the season for the Knicks, a five-point win over the Hawks.
Some Additional Notes
> Randle played well in both victories over the Dallas Mavericks, which were the two most important games of the season by far. He averaged 19 points, 9 rebounds and 3.5 assists in those two wins and shot 44% from the field.
> He scored at least 30 points eight times, and at least 20 points 30 times.
> He grabbed between 10 and 18 rebounds on 31 different occasions, including seven individual efforts of at least 15 boards. He had 16 points and 16 rebounds in a late-season victory over the Houston Rockets.
> He had at least 20 points, 10 boards and 5 tabs (total assists, blocks and steals) nine times.
> He posted 30 double-doubles.
> He had a number of career highs, including steals (0.8), free throw shooting (73.3%), field goal attempts (15.7) and minutes played (32.5), all per game.
> He only missed two games this season, and according to Mike Miller they weren’t because of injury, but instead some kind of family matter.
> He was involved in this play:
Outlook For Next Season
If the Knicks retain Randle, roster changes need to be made so he can be surrounded by players who will help him play up to his potential. The right coach wouldn’t hurt either. Randle’s attitude was generally solid, and when he wasn’t making everyone dizzy with failed spins into the lane, he showed why he was once a lottery pick.