Hey. How you been? I’ve been hurting. Pneumonia had me bed-ridden for weeks. My partner had to go to the ER (she’s better). My grandfather was admitted today (not sure how he is yet). And all the while I couldn’t even distract myself with the WTF-resurgent Knicks because YouTube TV doesn’t include MSG and I didn’t have cable ‘cuz the government got endless $$$ for WMDs but mucho nada for “Help us, please!”
Thankfully I’ve been feeling better the past few days. Today’s the first I’ve felt up for writing since before Santa made his rounds, so let’s get at some belated mailbag questions from last month.
1) Time machine trade proposal: We know that Julius Randle is the embodiment of evil and he must be banished, but no one wants him. If we could go back in time, he becomes a commodity, however. If we could trade Randle to a team from, say, the ‘90s or whatever, who would that team be, and what player from that era would we want back?
This take looks to be aging more like Shaquille O’Neal than LeBron James. But I’m old enough to remember way back before Randle’s Island was gentrified by all the bandwagoneers; it was a quiet place, one where keNtuckYKnicks’ feelings were mainstream. This question actually raises a few new ones for me, questions I doubt anyone considered before this season began.
First: should the Knicks pick up Randle’s option for next season? Only $4M is guaranteed; keeping him bumps that up to $19.8M. So retaining Julius Caesar costs New York about $16M, or nearly what they paid Bobby Portis last year. When framed like that, seems a no-brainer, right? Especially if the Randle we’ve seen through seven games is the one the Knicks would be getting in the future, the one putting up 22/11.5/7.5 while shooting 50% from the field and 40% from deep. And he’s not just better at the basic counting stats. Randle’s setting more screens. Better screens.
One of the sneakier improvements Randle has made this year--not slipping screens.— Basketball Robot (@DallasAmico_) January 5, 2021
Last yr. he averaged 1.5 screen assists per game, to this point this year he's averaging 3.3 screen assists per game. He's playing 6 more minutes--that is a significant increase. pic.twitter.com/nCTIuB0ytR
He’s also defending the opponents’ best bigs and giving them the business.
Highly recommend this article (w/clips and excellent breakdowns) from Quinn on Randle’s transformation. One thing I did not know is opponents are shooting 13% worse when defender by Randle. He is playing like a legit 2-way star https://t.co/WjL017dyoD— StacyPatton (@StacyPatton89) January 5, 2021
But what if the career 30% three-point shooter reverts closer to that number? And that reversion shrinks his drive-and-dish opportunities? Say by year’s end he’s more a 19/10/5 guy on 46/36 shooting? How productive does he need to be in order for the Knicks to keep him next year, or consider extending beyond that?
And how much do developments outside of Randle factor in? He and RJ Barrett lead the team in shots per game, both around 16 attempts. As shooters, both are more likely to cast a pall than be revered; even with a few scintillating shooting shows this season, RJ is at 40% from the field and 24% from deep. If Randle remains exquisite through whenever this year draws to a close, is it wise to bank on a future built around two players who raise similar questions? When they’re both on, as they were in Atlanta Monday night, all is well. When they’re not, they’re about as memorable a Knick duo as Lonnie Shelton and Bob McAdoo.
Julius Randle & RJ Barrett are the 1st pair of Knicks to each post at least 25 PTS, 10 REB, 5 AST in the same game since Lonnie Shelton & Bob McAdoo in 1977.@J30_RANDLE: 28 PTS, 17 REB, 9 AST@RjBarrett6: 26 PTS, 11 REB, 5 AST— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) January 5, 2021
Second question: what about Obi Toppin? If the rookie were closer in age to Barrett or Kevin Knox, perhaps the Knicks would extend Randle for 3-4 years, carrying him through the rook’s rookie contract and then turning the keys over to Toppin. But Obi turns 23 in less than two months. Randle is 26. Depth is not a bad thing, and God knows the Knicks haven’t been brimming with quality depth in forever. But if Randle is kept long-term, is Toppin’s greatest value to the team as a backup power forward? Or as a young(ish), inexpensive talent to be worked into some sort of trade? Can you believe we’re even thinking these thoughts already? This season is already wild shit, man.
As for the original question, I can think of two teams right off the bat from the ‘90s who could use Randle. One is the Pacers, who had a more than respectable pair of 4s with Dale Davis and Antonio Davis, but who were usually more than a respectable pair of 4s away from punching at the heavyweight level. But why help those hated hicks? Why not trade him from the 2021 Knicks to the 1994 Knicks?
I realize Charles Oakley has become something of a cult hero to many people, and as a midrange spot-up shooter, rebounder and defender, especially a help defender, Oak was top-shelf. But if you ever saw him try to post-up or do anything off the dribble, or the flights of fancy where he imagined himself a passer on the level of Magic Johnson, Oak was definitely “break glass ONLY in case of certain emergencies.” In the top top levels of competition, Oakley was not going to rise up and be the difference maker. Go back and watch film/read boxscores from some of the Knicks’ worst losses in the ‘90s. Oak had himself some low points.
The ‘90s Knicks came up short because of a below-average offense. Patrick Ewing was brilliant on that end, John Starks was miscast as a second banana when his game was more a delightful fruit salad, and after that...just no. Give Ewing a power forward who could create for himself and for others and Starks a second gifted offensive big to slot behind, and the Knicks win it all in 1994. That means Ewing bests Hakeem Olajuwon in title match-ups in both college and the pros, putting him above he and David Robinson in the eyes of history, and Pat Riley never leaves after 1995, and all of history plays out mad different.
As for completing the trade, who would you want from back then on this team now? Share in the comments.
2) Will more than four current Knicks be on the roster three years from now?
Whether four current players are on the team three years from now is pro’ly inextricable from this question: is Thibodeau still here, too? Thibs took over Chicago in 2010-11. Seven players on his 2014 Bulls were there from that first season. Ever hear someone labeled “a Larry Brown guy”? No. Because LB’s a rolling stone. No moss on his uppity ass. You hear about “a Thibs guy” because Thibs is ideally built to last, a craftsman head coach. Quality and process are everything to him. If he’s still here in 2024, the continuity will return to MSG, too. Of course, that’d mean the Knicks go from never signing their draftees to multiyear extensions to doing so with several of them. I’d really love it if Mitch, RJ, Knox and Immanuel Quickley were all still here. Speaking of Quickley...
3) How in the world we enter a draft with three picks and end the evening without a single fuc!#@ POINT GUARD????
A former NBA coach on Quickley:— JB (@JeffreyBellone) January 5, 2021
“How do you not love what Quickley gave them against Atlanta? He draws fouls like a vet, doesn’t play scared. They may have found something there...he looks like the steal of the late first round so far”
via @IanBegley https://t.co/GO58ggrP0p
Linda: "Hold the baby for a minute."— Joseph Flynn (@ChinaJoeFlynn) January 5, 2021
me: "Umm...OK, but I'm really sweaty."
Linda: "Why are you so sweaty just sitting in front of your computer?"
me: "Well, you see, the Knicks were down 13 to Atlanta, but then they brought Immanuel Quickley into the game, and he..."
4) From the “late the hate flow through you” department:
Is Payton, Jeffries, Randle, Kanter, Bargnani the most ever fan hated Knicks starting 5?— Urim Lekaj (@lekaj) December 14, 2020
I can’t speak for all of y’all, but the last lineup I’d ever wanna sit through — the one that would tell me I’d been sent to The Bad Place — would be Howard Eisley, Chris Duhon, Arron Afflalo, Kenyon Martin and Jerome James.
There’ll be one more belated mailbag in a few days. I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed having the Knicks and you in my life. And it’s such a nice change to write about them when they’re good for once! Let’s hope that keeps on keeping on. Talk to you soon, friends.