Julius Randle playing for the Knicks may sound crazy. Here’s why it’s not and why he’d be the perfect fit next to Kristaps Porzingis.
The Knicks frontcourt looks great this year. Kristaps Porzingis is taking that next step towards becoming a superstar. Kyle O’Quinn has provided solid energy off the bench as a defender and rebounder. Enes Kanter has been a force in the low-post, he’s cleaning the glass on both ends of the floor, and his defense is improving dramatically. Don’t believe it? Just look at the tape.
It’s become apparent that Porzingis is going to be the cornerstone of the franchise. he can become a generational-type player. If he’s surrounded by the right supporting cast, this Knicks team could become a perennial contender in the Eastern Conference. There is no one better suited to play alongside him in the frontcourt than Julius Randle.
This might not sit well with Knicks fans. Specifically, the Knicks fans who think an improved Kanter is the perfect running mate for Porzingis. While the two have been developing chemistry and playing well together, Randle is ultimately the better potential frontcourt collaborator.
How would Julius Randle fit?
Randle’s defense is what sets him apart from Kanter and other frontcourt options. I know what you’re thinking. The film on Kanter shows that his defense is improving. While Kanter is much better defensively in New York than he was in Oklahoma City, Randle’s versatility and ability to guard any position make him the best option.
Take a look at these highlights from a Lakers-Wizards game from earlier this season. On three separate plays, Randle locks up John Wall and was the catalyst for this Lakers victory.
During the first sequence, Randle switches onto Wall and lets him turn the corner and get to the basket. Randle uses his athleticism to get the block and lead to a breakout opportunity.
In the next defensive play shown, Randle keeps Wall in front of him and forces the All-Star guard into a tough fadeaway as the shot clock expires. This type of switching on pick-and-rolls is crucial to late-game defense and it’s something that Kanter isn’t capable of doing against most point guards in the league. Randle is capable of doing it against one of the best point guards in the NBA.
In the final defensive sequence, Randle shows his ability to give help-side defense after Wall comes off a screen and drives the lane. There might have been some contact and we’ve seen that call go to the offense before, but Randle gets in great position and maintains verticality beautifully.
He does manage to hit a huge three late in this game, but don’t let that fool you. Randle is a career 26 percent shooter from deep. That wouldn’t be a major issue because Porzingis’ ability to shoot would allow for proper spacing on the offensive end. While not the most gifted offensive player, Randle still gives you enough on that end of the floor and his defense makes up for any shortcomings.
What’s the argument against pursuing Julius Randle?
One argument against going for Randle is that Porzingis has made it clear that he prefers to play at power forward. Of course, you want to keep your franchise player happy, but the league is changing. Positions are becoming less relevant to the way coaches are putting together lineups. The combination of Randle and Porzingis would be a deadly small-ball lineup late in games.
That being said, if Porzingis doesn’t want to cover centers he won’t have to with Randle. Although undersized at 6-foot-9, Randle is capable of defending most centers in the league. The Knicks would still have rim protection with Porzingis, who is developing a penchant for getting big blocks at the rim.
Can the Knicks even pull it off?
Randle and the Los Angeles Lakers could not come to an agreement on a contract extension at the beginning of the season. This likely means that Magic Johnson and the organization is looking to move on from Randle sooner rather than later. They’ve got two other power forwards they seem to be higher on in Kyle Kuzma and Larry Nance Jr. and are looking to get in the market for marquee free agents in the offseason like Paul George or even LeBron James. Randle does not fit into this equation and he will likely get traded at the trade deadline.
Acquiring Randle won’t be easy for the Knicks. This may be all for naught if another team pursues Randle aggressively at the deadline. There will be a lot of moving parts if this match made in heaven is going to pan out. The Knicks could try and put together a package with younger plays and some second-round picks, but the Knicks front office has made no mention of this possibility. A move for Randle would likely mean that they would need to deal Courtney Lee to free up salary cap space. Kanter may opt-in to his contract at the end of the season, which would make re-signing Randle difficult.
It’s far from probable. It may not even be possible. But if the Knicks truly want to give Porzingis the perfect running mate, they would kick the tires on Randle and get something done.