We saw the best of Julius Randle, we saw the worst of Julius Randle.
Charitably, we begin on the sunny side of the 2022-23 campaign. Once again, Julius led the New York Knicks in scoring (25 ppg) and rebounds (10 rpg) yet again. He placed second on the team for assists (4.1), behind only point guard Jalen Brunson. Julius also logged his most effective field goal percentage (54%) since coming to New York. Great stuff so far.
Recognizing that the team lacked shooters, associate head coach Johnnie Bryant convinced Rande to fire away. Therefore, number 30 attempted a career-high of 8.3 three-pointers per game. That’s an increase of almost three from last year.
And sometimes the results dropped jaws.
On November 7, 2022, Randle tied his career-high mark for a game with eight. The feat came against the Minnesota Timberwolves, and our heroes triumphed, 120-107.
Later, on March 20, 2023, we got a glimpse of Randle’s full potential. He plastered a career-high 57 points on the T-Wolves (again) while hitting 67% of his 29 shot attempts, and going 8-of-14 from downtown.
His performance was brilliant and historical: Julius set a franchise record with 26 points in the third quarter alone.
51 FOR JULIUS RANDLE— x - KNICKS ON MSG (@KnicksMSGN) March 21, 2023
51 FOR JULIUS RANDLE
51 FOR JULIUS RANDLE
51 FOR JULIUS RANDLE pic.twitter.com/N4XfNGJ2bO
They lost the game, though, 140-136. Legendary Wolf Taurean Prince outdueled Jules and sank all eight of his three pointers from downtown (tbh, equally astounding).
When Randle plays to his potential, he is an offensive juggernaut and a defensive bull. Tough? He’s one of the NBA’s toughest, and, once again, Julius proved to be one of his team’s most durable players.
In his fourth campaign as a Knickerbocker, Julius played all but five games. Those five missed contests occurred at the end of the regular season when he had suffered an ankle sprain. Just over two weeks later, still sore, he suited up for the first game of the Playoffs—sort of Willis Reed-lite (RIP).
Randle scored 19 in the win. He would tweak his ankle again, this time in Game 5 of the first-round series. A week later, he played in Game 2 against the Miami Heat. In total, Julius powered through and missed only one of the team’s 11 postseason games. Only a jerk begrudges a guy with such grit.
Although he failed to win the Larry O’Brien trophy, Randle’s year was not without accolades.
The southpaw added two more accomplishments to his CV—a second All-Star appearance, and a second All-NBA selection. Yet for some fans, the guy who once thumb-downed the home crowd is irredeemable. Which leads us down the darker side of Julius Randle’s Basketball Reference page. . . .
Despite a great stat line, iron man durability, increased long-range shooting, willingness to let newcomer Jalen Brunson lead the team, and impressive decorations, all of 2022-23 failures were laid at Randle’s Nikes by a segment of fans.
For them, he’s no GOAT, he’s a scapegoat.
Outside an MSG viewing party, when the Miami Heat had ended New York’s season, a group of uncouth louts tore down and danced upon a poster of Randle. Can you blame a guy for feeling mental stress when your team’s fans behave like that? It was repugnant behavior, to be sure.
Also, not totally incomprehensible.
Perhaps that bum ankle bothered Julius more than he let on, because he did not distinguish himself admirably in the playoffs. In round two against the Heat, Randle shot 41% from the floor, 28% from deep. He averaged 19 points and 10 boards in five outings, but his four turnovers per game and half-hearted defense nullified any offensive gains.
Paired against the smaller Heat frontcourt, Randle and the Knicks were almost universally predicted to win. Instead, the Heat advanced in victory, and New York retreated to an early vacation. An ugly end to the season.
The year didn’t start great, either.
After one December loss to the Dallas Mavericks, I filed a recap with the headline quote, “Trade Randle. Fire Thibs.” After 23 games, with a quarter of the season over, New York, which was promised to be a competitive team, boasted a 10-13 record.
In Dallas, Randle usually entertains his hometown crowd. The night in question, he scored 24 points on 8-of-15 shooting. Not bad! The caveat is that he scored 21 points in the first half, only three in the second, and disappeared when most needed.
That probably wasn’t his worst game of the season, though. There are options, but the worst might have been the March 7, 2023, 112-105 loss to the lowly Charlotte Hornets.
The Knicks rode in on a nine-game win streak and should have ripped the wings off those moths. Randle scored 16 points and grabbed eight boards, but did so on 29% shooting from the field, 22% from deep (2-of-9). He also committed four fouls, two turnovers, and was a team-worst -20.
Sure, we select our data to support our point, and you can cherry-pick plenty of positive Randle moments from the season if that’s your slant. What concerns me is an issue that was repeated far too often, in games against Charlotte (easily winnable), Dallas (New York had 15-point lead), and the postseason Heat (NY was heavily favored). At the weirdest and most inopportune times, Julius Randle blends into the wallpaper.
Zach Blatter thought that Randle’s poor play cost the Knicks their season. Maybe you do, too.
Julius Randle cost the Knicks their season last night with how he approached the game in the first quarter.— zach (@_zachblatter) May 9, 2023
Here's a quick thread:
Not only was he agrieved by frustrated fans, Julius was also maligned by a jury of his peers. The Athletic held an anonymous poll of 108 players [paywalled], in which Julius was named one of the league’s most overrated players. (Equally unkind to our skipper, it named Tom Thibodeau the coach that players want to play for the least. No respect.)
Why the grief? There are a few reasons. Unfortunately, while Julius fired a fusillade from the perimeter, he sank only 34% of those shots this season—that’s an improvement on last year’s 31%, but still short of his best (41% in 2020-21).
Beyond inconsistent shooting, ball-handling issues continued to bedevil the big Texan. There’s an unpleasant feeling that burbles in the belly of many a Knicks fan when Julius spins into traffic. Too many the ball was stripped and stolen away or bounced out of bounds. It came as a surprise to learn that he committed his fewest turnovers per game since his year as a Big Easy Pelican. Sometimes stats and eyeballs don’t agree, folks.
Julius is proving to be an every-other guy. Starting with the 2017-18 season, his point totals have see-sawed: 16, 21, 20, 24, 20, and 25. Over that time span, the same alternating pattern occurred beyond the arc: 22%, 34%, 28%, 41%, 31%, and 34%.
If the pattern holds, Randle will ebb next season.
Under one rock is a Twitter troll who claims, “Randle’s value has never been higher—trade him now!” That notion bolstered by the fact that Julius will turn 29 next winter, and his bruising style of play usually wears out a body faster than normal. Off-loading him now will yield a higher return than after, hypothetically, injuries become more regular.
Peek under another stone to find a contradicting crone. “The league knows that he’s a hothead who wilts under playoff pressure,” says she. “You’ll be lucky to swap him for a bag of [insert filler of your choice, I like donuts].”
While Randle’s human frailties can be infuriating, few will argue that the Knicks could have reached the fifth seed of the conference without him. Thus, a third kind of fan holds yet another opinion: “Are you nuts? He’s one of the league’s strongest power forwards, gives you 20 and 10 per night, and will rank among the all-time Knick greats when he’s done.”
P&T held a Round(ball) Table specifically about whether New York should trade Randle. In it, my favorite sportswriter Matthew Miranda (always a deft devil’s advocate) makes a compelling counter-argument. Read it, consider his points, and see if you feel any different.
And trade Julius for whom, anyway?? The injury-prone (and aging) Paul George? The enigmatic Karl-Anthony Towns? Maybe you’d gut the team for one season of LeBron James in orange and blue, but not me.
Perhaps you think the better option is to trade Julius for a star shooter and fill the starting four-slot with a free agent. Pickings are slim on that front, too. Sorry, folks: Kristaps Porziņģis has yet to demonstrate that he’d perform any better than Julius in the postseason spotlight.
Buckle in for another ride on the Randle Rollercoaster next season. He is on a reasonable contract and stands to make $25.6M next season, then $27.5M and $29.4M. That’s fair for the stats he put up, and, truly, it’s hard to think of a replacement who would provide equal value. Besides, depending on who you ask, maybe his season wasn’t so bad after all.