The Julius Randle experience has been a bit of a roller coaster for Knicks fans.
His debut season in New York was muddied by poor coaching and ended up being cut short due to the pandemic stoppage. Randle followed that up with his best individual season to date.
He took home the Most Improved Player award, was named to the All-NBA Second Team, and most importantly, led the Knicks to home-court advantage in the playoffs.
New York rewarded the forward with a multi-year extension that summer, only for his struggles to return. Randle couldn’t connect on the same jumpers that elevated his game, leading to some emotional clashes with both fans and officials.
Many lost hope in Randle as a central tenant after 2021-22, but with his trade value cratered and star talent desperately needed, he returned for Year Four.
Thus far, it’s shaped out to be another redemption season for him.
Through 26 games, Randle is averaging 22 points, nine rebounds, and four assists a night. He’s shooting 55 percent on two-pointers and 34 percent from behind the arc. Only seven others players share those averages, all of which are star talents.
His numbers have only improved as of late, with some hot three-point shooting (36.8 percent in his last 20 games) contributing to his bounce-back season.
The cherry on top is his improvement on defense.
When Randle is disengaged on that end, it shows and impacts the team’s performances. He’s been locked in as of late though, leading to a march back up the defensive rankings for the Knicks.
Against all odds, Randle has found the touch he had in 2021 and the Knicks find themselves sitting in the sixth seed. For those reasons, and the many to come, he’s earned himself another All-Star berth.
Randle’s counting stats are nice, but his value is better found looking beyond those numbers.
He’s been playing about as large a role in the Knicks’ offense as he ever has. Despite that, he’s been turning the ball over less and shooting more efficiently.
His turnovers per 100 possessions are consistent with Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma or the Celtics’ Jaylen Brown, both of whom are secondary creators on their teams. His 55 percent shooting from inside the arc is his best mark since becoming a Knick.
It’s as if Randle has taken the best parts of his previous seasons and combined them into this year’s version of himself. The jump-shooting is a throwback to the magical 2021 season and he’s bulldozing defenders inside a la 2020, but his shot profile continues to evolve beyond those years.
His general decision-making has also been better than it’s ever been.
Randle is developing a good sense of when to take over and when to defer to teammates. After some botched isolations late in the fourth quarter against Chicago, Randle went scoreless in overtime but created some of the Knicks’ biggest buckets.
And don’t let the low assist numbers fool you, much of the Knicks offense is still generated by Randle. With the more natural flow and increased transition opportunities and ball movement, the forward has had to settle for more hockey assists.
He’s also had some statement scoring nights too. Randle now has six 30-plus point games this season, which leads the Knicks and tops most Eastern Conference forwards. New York won all six of those games, and is 9-2 when he scores 25 or more points.
With All-Star voting beginning in just a few days, fans are likely to give Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Jayson Tatum the starting front-court spots.
Kevin Durant will also deservingly make it, likely alongside Evan Mobley, but the East doesn’t have many other big-name players for Randle to compete with.
Bam Adebayo, DeMar DeRozan, and Pascal Siakam certainly have strong cases, but Randle’s Knicks are currently ahead in the standings. This gives him a real argument for a spot as the team’s best performing player.
Randle is now leading the team in scoring and rebounding, playing efficiently, and defending hard.
While the real reward for all this would be a trip to the playoffs, another All-Star appearance to validate his talent and leadership to start this season would be commendable, and deserved.