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New year, new Randle

Credit where credit is due

NBA: New York Knicks at Houston Rockets Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

After what was a disappointing and tumultuous 2021-22 season for Julius Randle, he’s bounced back and is enjoying an immensely productive season. The veteran big man is averaging a career-high 24.2 points per game while grabbing 10 rebounds and dishing out 3.8 assists on a respectable 46.3% from the field and 34.2% on 3s. As someone who was very much pushing for the team to trade him, I have loved having to eat my words and be wrong. And the same can be said for a lot of Knicks fans. Fans and analysts have come out in droves talking about Randle’s recent numbers. They’ll bring up his points, drop in turnovers, improved 2-point shooting, strong rebounding rates, positive regression in 3P%, first quarter scoring, and more. But there’s something more interesting here that hasn’t garnered the same kind of attention, at least not from everyone: his attitude. The Wednesday win over the Spurs may have been the best example yet of just how much Randle has changed.

While the big man managed to score 25 points, he went 9 of 26 from the field, 1 of 8 from deep and 6 of 11 from the free throw line while committing five turnovers. Simply put, it was an ugly performance offensively. That being said, Randle still managed to be a +9 (yes, I know +/- is a flawed stat that doesn’t fully account for your teammates) and overall played some solid basketball. Much like he has been doing all season, he was active on the boards, grabbing 13, managed to block four shots (one off of his career-high) and came away with three steals. It was nice to see the former All-Star keep his head high, stay positive, and make an effort to impact the game in other ways when his offense wasn’t going the way he wanted to. In the past, we’ve seen Randle become frustrated, get in his own head, force things, and check out defensively. And in a game that ultimately came down to the wire, it was a much-needed effort from him.

Plays like the one above showcase the growth Randle has gone through in terms of effort, maturity and composure. Last year, or even earlier this season, it’s very plausible that instead of hustling back for a nice chase down block, Randle puts his hands up in frustration, starts heading towards the bench in anticipation of a time out and proceeds to sit away from everyone else. Now, this isn’t to say that Randle is perfect and that he doesn’t have any lapses or that he is a top-10 player in the league or anything remotely like that. Randle very much still has his deficiencies, which includes a tendency to check out and get frustrated at times. But it has been a lot easier to root for him as of late, even when he does have bad games offensively, because of the improved attitude and energy.

And let’s be real here. While fans would love a top-5 player on the team who is a perennial MVP candidate, only a handful of teams get the luxury of having someone like that. Everyone else honestly would settle for a team full of players that play hard and play the right way. And Randle has been a lot closer to doing that as of late that he had been over the last 10 or so months. Maybe it’s just the fact that it’s a new season; maybe it’s the fact that the team is winning more’ maybe it’s the addition of Jalen Brunson (who seem to have grown close to Randle) and his calm and composed demeanor. Who knows? But whatever changed and clicked for Randle, it’s been a treat to watch and this change deserves just as much credit as his stats do.