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Julius Randle is the Knicks’ biggest problem right now

Julius Randle hasn’t looked anything like an All-Star recently, and it’s dooming the Knicks more than any other factor

Indiana Pacers v New York Knicks Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

There’s a lot going wrong for the New York Knicks right now.

Free-agent signings Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier have so far not panned out as hoped. The defensive output is rarely stable from night to night The difference in production between the starters and the second unit is jarring and confusing.

Those issues will all need to be addressed as soon as possible to help right the ship as best they can, but they’re not New York’s biggest problem at the moment. That title would belong to an engine no longer powering the team the way he should and certainly not in the ways we know he can.

Julius Randle has averaged just 16.2 points a night over the last five games. He’s shot just 38.3 percent from the field. He has 18 turnovers to 17 assists. He’s been a minus-68, the worst mark on the team.

The Knicks have won just one of their last four games, a comeback victory over Indiana on Monday night in which Randle was a bystander while the bench mob erased a double-digit deficit.

In another home loss to the Magic on Wednesday, Randle scored 13 points and was a minus-21 in 32 minutes, nearly doubling the next worse player on that night (Derrick Rose, a minus-11).

“It hasn’t been great,” Randle said when asked how he’d evaluate his play so far this season. “...I think it’s been exactly how the season has went. There’s been good days and there’s been not great days and that’s pretty much who we are right now.”

I want to tell you Randle’s struggles are rooted in a shooting slump he’ll bust out of soon enough. In one sense, that is the case. He’s shooting noticeably worse on just about all of his jumpers compared to last season. But setting the expectations at the incredibly high bar he set with an unprecedented surge in efficiency might set you up for disappointment.

Randle might not shoot as well as he did last season ever again. That doesn’t mean his scoring has to fall below 20 points a night, which it has through 15 games. He’s simply not helping the cause, however, when his shot selection plays into those shooting struggles.

The 3-point shot was a part of Randle’s game last season, a piece he used to set up other parts of his game. Now, it feels like outside shooting has taken over his entire arsenal. Nearly 37 percent of his shots are coming from behind the arc That number was below 30 percent a year ago, and that was when he was draining those shots at an elite 41.1 percent clip.

He’s actually not shooting terribly from the 3-point line this season at over 35 percent, but the additional jumpers are taking Randle away from what he does best. He’s driving the ball fewer times per game and getting to the line much less frequently than he did a season ago.

So much of Randle’s game is rooted in his ability to overpower the opposition on his way to the bucket, and yet he’s continuously bailed defenses out with every jumper he launches. He took 11 shots against the Magic on Wednesday. 10 of them were 3-pointers. Sure, he hit four of them, but the Knicks don’t pay this man to float behind the line and shoot jumpers all game. He took two free throws against Orlando, a team that gives up the sixth-most free-throws per game.

It’s also worth noting that aside from the dip in production, Randle’s body language has been downright awful. He puts his head down. He’ll turn the ball over and get dejected while everyone else beats him down the court. His defensive awareness and reaction come and go.

We can talk all day long about the improvements the Knicks need from their defense and a handful of players. Perhaps Tom Thibodeau does, in fact, need to tweak the rotation. But most teams beat to the drum of their best player and Randle’s rhythm is all out of sync in more ways than one.

If that doesn’t get fixed, the trickle-down effect will continue to unravel the Knicks.