Isay: Julius Randle is new and improved this season
The Knicks played the Atlanta Hawks in an exciting matchup on Presidents day. While Atlanta has struggled to an 11-15 record this season, they are still a competitive contender because of Trae Young – one of the NBA’s best scoring threats. He can bring his team back from almost any deficit. Young is an unstoppable shooter and playmaker, and the Hawks rely on his skills on a nightly basis. Thankfully for the Knicks, they have a player this season who can score just as easily as Trae Young: Julius Randle. Knicks Forward Julius Randle started the game against the Hawks hot: he had 17 points in the first quarter. Randle’s hot start propelled them to an early lead in the first half. Though the Knicks were able to get in front of the Hawks in the first half, they started to fall behind in the third quarter – nobody could hit a shot, and their ball movement was lackluster. Then Randle took over the game in the fourth quarter. He hit big shot after big shot, and almost single-handedly propelled the Knicks to a 123-112 win: their third straight victory.
“I just felt like I kind of let the team down last year. I felt like I didn’t have my best performance,” he said in a postgame interview with MSG Sports’ Rebecca Haarlow. “I knew what I had to do. A lot of people may have written me off. A lot of people may have had their doubts or whatever in me. And that was just motivation, that was fuel. For me, it was just coming back a better player and a better teammate than I was last year,”
House of Highlights.
Randle scored 44 points against the Atlanta Hawks on February 15th, leading the New York Knicks to a 123-112 victory.
Randle is right to say he let the team down last year. Sure, his stats were good (averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 46% from the field), but his numbers did not help the team win games. The Knicks finished 21-45 at the end of the season. Going into the 2019 offseason, the Knicks were hoping to land Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving – two superstars that would instantly make the Knicks a playoff contender. When Durant and Irving instead signed with the Brooklyn Nets, the Knicks front office immediately pivoted to pick up Randle and some minimally impactful veterans. It is fair to say that many fans’ expectations for the 2019-20 season were overly optimistic, and Randle was not able to produce at the level that Knicks fans had hoped for.
This year though, Randle has a completely different approach. His numbers are very similar to last season – 26 points and 11 rebounds per game – but his impact is exponentially greater. He has become a more willing passer and defender, becoming the main playmaker for the Knicks this season. Randle’s style of basketball this year no longer brings about poor decision-making and unnecessary turnovers. Watching Randle this year, it is obvious that he is a more willing passer and isn’t forcing passes or shots anymore. This change in style is the main reason that the Knicks are just one game away from having a winning record with a roster almost identical to last year’s team.
While Randle is getting plenty of appreciation from the fanbase, many analysts in the national media are not paying attention to how important Randle has been to the Knicks’ success this season. Sure, his statistics are not as remarkable as players like Bradley Beal or Joel Embiid, but it is hard to imagine what the Knicks’ record would be if they did not have Julius Randle to rely on at big moments throughout the season. His case to be an All-Star is not in his statistics: it is in how important he has been to the Knicks’ success this season. That’s something that cannot be measured in the stat sheet.