clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

January mailbag: Randle’s future, Thibodeau absolved and re-designing MSG

Leave the gun. Take the cannoli. And the mailbag.

NBA: New York Knicks at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a while, loves. Let’s mailbag.

“Do you think we can ever be a contender with Julius Randle? His backslide into wannabe heroballer in heightened circumstances has always made me skeptical.

Also, whatever happened to Stingy a.k.a. Jonathan Schulman? I hafta admit, I miss the previews with the trademark Knicks by -17 predictions. Is he still in the Knicks blogging world? Or is he completely off the wagon?”


Can the Knicks be a title contender if Julius Randle is their best player? Hard to imagine that. Can they contend if Randle is their second- or third-best player? Probably. The devil’s in the details.

Last week I found myself incredulous at someone telling me, on the heels of Randle’s 36-point masterpiece in the win over Cleveland, how they’d trade him today to Phoenix for Cam Johnson and a couple of picks. I asked Ben Ritholtz about it on the pod I co-host and he offered a thoughtful outlining of why Randle’s value drops significantly once the Knicks add the long-awaited new star, Messiah X. If the Knicks somehow added, say, Luka, a ball-dominant scoring machine, Randle no longer handles that job. So what is his role? Is he on board with the change? Are the Knicks? Remember: Randle’s salary for a lead actor is a bargain for the team; how might they view paying him top dollar to play Lacey to someone else’s Cagney?

I am higher on Randle than a lot of people. But I do think there’s a dimension he brings to the team that’s often overlooked. You probably know the Knicks are one of the league’s best offensive rebounding teams (they’re second), and you probably know Mitchell Robinson is to offensive rebounds what Pac Man is to blue ghosts (Mitch was second in the league in offensive rebounds before going down with his thumb injury; he’s since dropped a few spots). Did you know the Knicks rank sixth in defensive rebounds? Did you know Randle is in pretty much a dead heat for the league lead in defensive rebounds with Nikola Vučević? Randle pulls down 25% of the Knicks’ defensive rebounds. Total rebounds isn’t the greatest gift God gave us to measure defense, but also it seems like a good thing that a player you need on the floor for your offense to flourish also happens to excel at closing out defensive possessions by owning the glass.

So I think there is a specific circumstance in which the Knicks could contend for a title with Julius Randle. I think if you paired with him with a scorer like Luka, so Randle’s role was more attacking 4-on-3s and taking in-rhythm spot-up 3s on one end and competing on defense while defending the defensive glass, and there was the right mix of role players to go with them, the Knicks could win with Randle.

As far as Mr. Schulman, I reached out to the man himself to inquire. His reply:

“Doin fine, probably living the cowabunga lifestyle a little too recklessly. But stayin busy. Looking forward to spring; lots of projects to tackle in my little mountain town/cozy home. Idk what to say really but if i had any words of wisdom i guess: always act your age but dress like you’re 33. Support women in sports.”

He also left you some tuneage to check out.

“If and when the Knicks play well and make the playoffs, as we would hope, do you expect Randle to perform better? Not saying that he should average 25-30 points, but be more efficient during the postseason?”


Are you asking if I think he’ll perform better than he did in his last playoffs? If so, the answer is yes, I do. If the Knicks make the playoffs, it will have been two years since they were last there. The player and the team have had a lot of time to counter the counters that tripped them up so badly against Atlanta. I’m interested in seeing how Randle’s shot profile changes — or doesn’t — in the postseason. Has narrowing his focus put him in a better position to keep things simple come playoff time? Has narrowing it made it easier for defenses to know where to attack him? How much easier will Jalen Brunson make Randle’s life? Can’t wait to find out!

“Who should the Knicks go get (realistic targets only), with the rule of no one over 30? Let’s pretend they continue with the youth movement; no expensive oldsters like in past years.”


In researching this question, I learned Andre Drummond is still in his 20s. Isn’t that amazing? Doesn’t he seem 34? Did you know until a month ago Eddy Curry was still in his 30s? Who’d a thunk it?

In no particular order, a list of intriguing unrestricted free agents under 30: Dario Šarić, Caris LeVert, Josh Hart, Thomas Bryant, Malik Beasley, Jalen McDaniels, Frank Ntiliki’m just kidding, Kelly Oubre and Lonnie Walker; Kyle Kuzma and Dillon Brooks are expected to decline their player options and join the summer bacchanalia.

Šarić and Bryant could replace Isaiah Hartenstein and potentially even do things, which would be a welcome development. LeVert, Beasley, Oubre, Walker and Kuzma could bring scoring punch to a bench unit in sudden need of it. McDaniels and Brooks bring size and intriguing two-way skills; Brooks is a terrific defender. Add in trade candidates we can’t even guess at in January and you can bet the gossip will only build up till July. And that we here at P&T will be covering all the rumors and realities as free agency rises and sets.

“After all the years that Mitchell Robinson has been on the team, why has he not developed any shot of any kind. Floater? Hook? Turn-around jumper? Anything? It is a sad state of affairs that a 7-foot ‘athlete’ can only dunk or put back! (When he watches other 7-footers do what THEY can do, does he ever ask himself ‘Why can’t I do that?’)”


I don’t know if it was your intent or not, Orangebowl1969, but I found your tone remarkably cruel and unfair.

The development and refinement of individual skills in any field is immensely personal, if not private. What if we took your question to Mitch and asked it of everyone with room to grow in every field? Should Tito have been a better singer and dancer growing up around Michael’s example? Did he ever ask himself ‘Why can’t I do that?’ Why don’t pianists today just listen to Vladimir Horowitz playlists and play better? Why didn’t Carmelo Anthony’s teammates copy his footwork and post moves?

I assume Mitch hasn’t developed a shot for two reasons: 1) he’s not a good enough shooter for any defense to ever feel anything but thanks that he’s settling for a pull-up, and 2) the Knicks don’t think the rewards of cutting him loose are worth the risks. If you disagree, you might point to his assist percentage being up over 50% from a year ago while his turnovers are down 36%. I might counter with how in spite of this improvement, Robinson still averages nearly twice as many d’ohs! as dimes.

Putting “athlete” in quotes and reducing Mitch to a caricature who gets away with “only” doing something we stereotype as easy is disappointing for several reasons. Robinson’s “athlete” credentials aren’t just beyond that of most people, they’re beyond most professional athletes. He’s the foundation of the defense and of one of the Knicks’ emphases on offense: the offensive glass. Non-athletes with no skills don’t rival Steven Adams as the league’s preeminent offensive rebounder. The kinesthetic sense required to triangulate your place on the floor with the ball’s location with the rim, processing the angle of the ball in the air and the bodies lining up for the rebound, the toughness involved in repeatedly throwing yourself after balls you’re unlikely to land, the growth Robinson has shown in the speed and decision-making on display when he re-distributes the rebound to a teammate: Mitch has shown growth in all of them.

Also, he’ll have earned nearly $70M paper dollars by the time he’s 27. I don’t generally think resorting to “look at their bank account” is meaningful, but it seems so as far as your question. You may struggle with his foibles, but Robinson seems to have some idea what he’s doing.

“I believe that Brunson should be an All-Star starter, alongside Donovan Mitchell. Not positive, but I feel like that would be a first in Knicks history. Where does he rank on the Knicks all-time point guard list and what does he have to do to claim the top spot?”

— PG Kawhi

Second question first, since that’s easy: put up 38 points, 20 assists and eight rebounds in the win that delivers the Knicks the title and he can be number one.

As for the All-Star game, it’s unfortunate the voters felt differently than you, PG Kawhi, giving the second starter spot alongside Mitchell to Irving. Brunson has played at a level deserving of recognition, and if you comp the numbers his performance is certainly competitive with Kyrie’s.

But All-Star voting isn’t standardized testing, nor even a form of grading. It’s a process designed to be manipulated (“Vote today and your vote counts triple!”), one the players themselves don’t take seriously. A year ago, more than half the players left Joel Embiid off their ballot. Meanwhile, you know who did get their votes? Michael Carter-Williams, Luka Šamanić, Moses Wright, Zylan Cheatham, Jay Huff, Joel Ayayi, Sudz Sutherland, George King, McKinley Wright IV and Mike Gauyo. Eight of those names belong to NBA players. Two belong to the showrunner and an actor from Netflix’s Ginny & Georgia. Props to you if you know which is which.

Maybe someone ends up missing the game for some reason and Brunson is honored unexpectedly. Sweet. Walt Frazier started seven straight All-Star games from 1970-1976. Brunson’s been a Kick for 48 games. He doesn’t belong in the same sentence yet as Raymond Felton, much less Clyde. Be happy with how he’s been and leave well enough alone.

“If basketball courts were like baseball fields and every team could make up their own dimensions, how would you design the MSG floor? Like, you could move the 3-point line closer or farther, or make it a true arc and there’s no corner 3, make the court wider or narrower, longer or shorter, re-size the paint, whatever. We’ve underperformed at home; what could we do to maximize our strengths?”


I’d make the court completely transparent and set-up dozens of flatscreens beneath it, all of them forever playing highlights of the night Latrell Sprewell came back to the Garden with Minnesota, killed the Knicks and cursed James Dolan out. More than once.

I submit to the wisdom of the masses: what kind of homecourt would best suit the 2023 Knicks? What kind of court could ensure enjoyment of the product years into the future? Drop your dream in the comment section.

“On the constant Thibs criticisms: isn’t it true that in all things, one cannot separate the good from bad? The lineup and rotation decisions that get the most pushback are the very choices that have produced results. Can’t an argument be made that this would be the [Knicks’] record regardless of who was coaching? You can win more games in the fourth late in the season by managing minutes, or you can win more now by relying on huge minutes from your best players.

Tldr: Aren’t team wins decided 99% by talent and 1% by coaching choices? Can anyone seriously show that the Knicks would be any better at all if they were coached by someone else?”


My engagement ended about eight months ago. Hold that in the back of your mind till the end of this answer.

I imagine the truth around Thibodeau is fluid, and varied. Think of all the split-second decisions, reactions and counters that go into everything everyone involved in a game does. Think of how much is beyond the control even of LeBron, who has more control over the game than most players ever have. When RJ Barrett snakes past two defenders in transition for the basket and the foul, that’s not because of Tom Thibodeau. Conversely, Thibodeau worked with young players like Immanuel Quickley and Quentin Grimes last year in addition to the team’s regular practices. He was ripped last year for not playing them more. Does he not warrant applause with them looking as good as they do now, and ready to contribute? ‘Cuz there are absolutely teams loaded with youth who pick “sink or swim” as their development strategy. How’s the past decade been, Orlando?

I’m not sure how much better these Knicks would be if somebody else were coaching them. The players seem to more than tolerate him; more stunning than Randle returning to 2021 glory or Obi Toppin turning into Steve Novak may be that we’re now in year three of the Thibs era and I can’t recall a single player, on- or off-the-record, having something negative to say about him. Thibs helped lead the Knicks from a culture-less ship of fools to Eliza Doolittle of the NBA, working hard to improve their image in the eyes of others. In this analogy Thibodeau is Henry Higgins. Sit with that a while.

As is the case with Randle, I think Thibodeau’s position changes entirely the instant Messiah X walks in the door. He was was the right coach to get the Knicks from laughingstock to legitimate. The coach who leads them from legit to luminous will face different challenges. Thibs showing some more creativity and flexibility, particular when not seemingly on the verge of getting the axe, could be one way of raising the team’s ceiling, perhaps easier to achieve than drafting, signing or trading for a superstar. Then again, it often does boil down the talent. When Thibodeau coached MVP Derrick Rose, his team won two playoff rounds and advanced to the ECF. In all other seasons, without a league MVP, his teams have won two series and lost six.

I mentioned my engagement having ended. In the eight months since, I could not be deader inside as far as sex. I’m not attracted to anyone, I’m not even drawn to the thought of being drawn to someone. I know this may change in time, as my heart heals, but right now I cannot imagine intimacy with anybody. Thibs strikes me as the kind of lover who can wake you to your body’s thirst without being able to quench it himself. You date him and it’s definitely temporary, but he’s reliable. You can trust him to be him, even if who he is isn’t your ultimate dream. Thibs reminds you that deep down inside, your libido lingers. He doesn’t stir it to wakefulness, but does stir you to recognize it when you finally do meet someone who stirs you in all the right places.

Thus ends the January 2023 mailbag. If Vox hasn’t laid me off by next month, look out for the next one then.