The Knicks are fighting to make the playoffs thanks to Julius Randle, who is playing the best basketball of his career while leading a surprisingly spunky New York squad in points, assists and rebounds per game. If he isn’t named an All-Star reserve, it’s a travesty.
Randle’s redemption has been otherworldly, especially considering how many fans were willing to give him up for peanuts after last year. In his seventh season, the power forward is consistently putting up numbers reminiscent of Patrick Ewing, only with more assists and less blocks. Randle is averaging career highs in countless categories, including points (23.2), rebounds (11) and assists (5.5), not to mention three-point and free throw shooting (he’s shooting 41% from deep on 4.5 attempts per game and almost 81% on 6.5 free throws per night).
Julius Randle is currently averaging:— Tommy Beer (@TommyBeer) February 19, 2021
Only five other players in NBA history have matched or exceeded those averages over the first 30 games of a season:
Oscar in 1962
Wilt in 1967
Kareem in 1979
KG in 2005
Giannis in 2019
His greatness has resulted in the best Knicks team since 2012-13. New York is 15-16, currently good for 7th in the Eastern Conference. Not only is Randle an All-Star, at this rate he could win Most Improved Player, and it isn’t crazy to say he should be viewed as a top 10 MVP candidate, although he’s obviously a tier below guys like Joel Embiid, LeBron James or Damian Lillard.
Starting the conversation. @J30_RANDLE should be top-10 in the MVP conversation pic.twitter.com/Ro4nboXReC— KNICKS ON MSG (@KnicksMSGN) February 22, 2021
The All-Star reserves will be unveiled Tuesday night on TNT, and if Randle doesn’t get the nod it will mean the coaches made the wrong choice. Although if you believe Nick Young, perhaps the coaches have already made their picks:
Congrats @J30_RANDLE All Star!!— Nick Young (@NickSwagyPYoung) February 19, 2021
Okay, Young can’t necessarily be trusted, so let’s make the argument for why Randle should be named an All-Star reserve. Sure, the NBA is overloaded with All-Star-level talent and there are only seven spots remaining on the Eastern Conference roster, but Randle is a freaking All-Star.
He’s 25th in the NBA in scoring and 13th in the East. He improves to 10th if you look at just the players 6’4” and over. Besides the guys who were named as starters (Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant and Embiid), only three Eastern Conference frontcourt players are averaging more points per game than Randle: Jayson Tatum (26), Nikola Vucevic (24.1) and Jerami Grant (23.5).
Randle is averaging more rebounds and assists than Tatum while shooting a higher percentage from the field, and Boston (15-15) is only slightly better than New York right now. He’s posting more boards than Vucevic while leading his team to a better record (Orlando is 13-18). He’s better than Grant at rebounds and assists while shooting better from the field, and the Detroit Pistons are a bottom feeder at 8-22. Tatum could reasonably be selected over Randle, but it isn’t as much of a sure thing as some might think at first glance.
Of course, there are other frontcourt competitors hoping to earn roles as All-Star reserves, such as Khris Middleton, Domantas Sabonis, Jimmy Butler and Gordon Hayward.
Middleton and Sabonis certainly deserve to make the team; Middleton is the second best player on the third best team in the East (he’s averaging 20.5 points per game, 6 boards and 5.7 assists per game while teetering on the edge of the 50/40/90 club). Sabonis, meanwhile, also has a strong case, since he’s basically putting up Randle’s exact stat line (slightly lower on scoring, slightly higher on rebounds and assists) for an Indiana Pacers team that is fourth in the East at 15-14. Butler has only played in 18 of Miami’s 30 games this year, which should be disqualifying. And Hayward is having himself a lovely little season, but Randle has simply been better, and the Knicks are percentage points ahead of Charlotte in the playoff race.
He’s also competing with the likes of Tobias Harris, Pascal Siakam and Bam Adebayo. Harris is having a helluva season (20.6 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists), but he’s got Embiid and Simmons on his team, meaning he isn’t even close to being the primary creator on offense like Randle. Siakam is having a good year (20.5 points, 7.7 boards and 4.7 assists), but Fred Vanvleet might actually be the more deserving Toronto Raptor this season. Adebayo could definitely make the team (19.6 points, 9.4 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1 block and 1 steal), but Miami is underperforming at 13-17, so it’s not like him over Randle is an open and shut case.
These are difficult decisions to make, but Randle has earned his first All-Star appearance. Not only is he having a career year stats-wise, he’s become a true leader. Tom Thibodeau calls him the engine that runs the Knicks. Take Randle off of this team and try to imagine how the season would be going.
"If this man is not an All-Star, it's a problem." FACTS. #JuliusRandle x #NBAAllStar pic.twitter.com/fniuIAbkJa— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) February 16, 2021
There are seven spots left on the Eastern Conference All-Star team, and it’s not a foregone conclusion that any of the competing frontcourt players have an obvious advantage over Randle. In most of the cases, it’s Randle who has the edge. He absolutely, without question, deserves the honor.