When looking at the New York Knicks roster, it’s clear that there’s no better primary option than newly arrived Julius Randle.
It’s easy to look at a team like the New York Knicks and question the legitimacy of their roster. We get that.
Simultaneously, it’s pretty convenient to look at this team and fail to see a clear-cut No. 1 option amidst so much raw talent.
So I elected, at 5:30 a.m. ET on a Saturday, to sit down and assure you that the Knicks do, in fact, have a leader. both on and off the floor.
Twenty-four-year-old and newly signed power forward, Julius Randle, is that man.
New York fans have had their eyes set on forward Randle as early as 2016. I dug up a column from colleague Danny Small on the forward’s potential as Kristaps Porzingis frontcourt partner.
Yes, Knicks fans; we’ve been talking about this one for a minute.
And honestly, rightfully so.
But unlike any other NBA All-Star caliber players you’ve seen photo-shopped into Knicks and Lakers jerseys, this outcome actually became reality. Randle signed a three-year, $61-million deal with New York at the start of free agency.
This move, coming after the team whiffed on signing top-tier names like Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving, who decided to join the neighboring Brooklyn Nets.
But the more I look at Randle’s tape and think about the lineup options that present themselves, I truly think this signing is being strongly overlooked.
It’s hard to hold him accountable for last season in New Orleans (33-49) amidst the constant trade talks and off-court drama regarding the Pelicans’ former franchise face Anthony Davis.
But still, Randle had a tremendous season as an individual talent—one that might even suggest he’s primed for a larger role–like leading the young New York Knicks.
Randle posted 21.4 points and 8.7 rebounds with a 52/34/73 shooting split last year. Numbers that, in my highly unbiased opinion, would have earned him some sort of role on the Eastern Conference All-Star team. And per Basketball Reference, those numbers (21+ points, 8+ rebounds) were recorded by just eight players on the year.
Among them, Randle had the third-highest three-point percentage. He trailed only Karl Anthony-Towns (.400) and Paul George (.386). It’s clear Randle’s year was nothing to glance over, and yet, there’s been almost no talk about his impact with a new team.
I say new team here because of the eight aforementioned talents, he was the only one to enter free agency. Yes, we saw Paul George and Russell Westbrook shift power in the Western Conference, but how about a little love for a guy in similar conversation?
When all is said and done and the roster is finalized following training camp in October, Randle will emerge the clear-cut number one option for the Knicks. He’s been groomed for this kind of role since his being drafted to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2014.
No great argument can be presented, or justified, without context. And there are more than one reasons as to why I’d argue Randle for New York’s number one gun.
Very few people/players have been as excited about the Knicks upcoming season than Randle. He’s been very open and positive off the basketball court about the team’s culture and praised his new teammates.
When speaking with Marc Berman of the Post back in July, the 24-year old called it a dream come true, among other things:
“Being able to be the face of this iconic franchise. I had a lot of options. I felt this opportunity for me was the greatest opportunity. The whole fan base that’s staving and hungry to win more than [any team] in the NBA. I don’ think there’s a better place in the NBA to win than the Knicks.”
It’s not often the New York fanbase is acknowledged in a positive light, and Randle got out on the right foot with his new following. When asked about the team’s identity, he simply called his new squad tough, referencing the Knicks of old.
“We have to get back to the old-school Charles Oakley, Patrick Ewing, all those guys. Toughness. That’s the identity of our team. We don’t back down from nobody.’’
In an August interview with Ian Begley of SNY, Randle praised his new teammate in the frontcourt second-year center Mitchell Robinson:
“I’m excited man, that kid is going to be amazing,”
And in a separate August interview with Berman of the New York Post, there was no doubt that being underestimated doesn’t bother the fourth-year forward.
“It’s easy to underestimate us. But we’re a deep team. We’re a very deep 1-to-15 with guys who can play. If they underestimate us, I don’t care.”
In just those four quotes, you can already begin to see the makings of a leader in a locker room that so desperately needs direction.
New York’s newest starting power forward started out in Los Angeles with the shell of Kobe Bryant and a still-loading D’Angelo Russell. He became a victim of the Lakers free agency successes; as he was released by the team to create cap space for LeBron James.
So Randle entered free agency, where he had a vast market of suitors. As we all know however, he ended up in New Orleans on a one-year deal.
There he got to play next to Jrue Holiday, one of the best defenders and more underrated guards in the league; and for a brief period (56 games) Anthony Davis, a without-a-doubt top-five player in the game.
New Orleans ended the season as the Western Conference’s 13th seed with just 33 wins. Talent was scarce and Randle finished the year sharing the workload with Holiday.
Despite playing with two perennial All-Star talents, the forward managed to produce strong numbers individually, which raises a question ahead of his debut in New York.
What’s Randle’s value and potential ceiling when he’s done playing third wheel? We got a brief glimpse towards the end of last season.
Davis was shut down towards the end of the season to preserve his health in hopes (and now reality) of New Orleans fleecing Los Angeles in any potential deal.
And Holiday played just 67 games, missing the final 15. But in the games he missed, Randle’s role grew even more. He averaged 24.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 3.6 assists in the 13 games he played without the two.
New Orleans went just 2-11 in that period, sure, but weren’t they tanking for Zion at that point? Randle’s on-court contributions and workload suggest he’s ready to tackle a primary role with the right team: cue the New York Knicks.
As the roster is currently constructed, Randle is both the highest-paid and most skilled baller on the Knicks. You could argue (and every Knicks fan inevitably will once this is published) Mitchell Robinson is a close second…
But remember, Randle is 24 and has played four whole seasons. He’s a versatile threat who can score on all three levels, and facilitate an open floor and/or in transition.
Randle’s peak as a playmaker came in his lone triple-double performance last year, in an impressive New Orleans win over the San Antonio Spurs.
If you watched the full highlight reel, there’s a certain no-look pass midway through the fourth quarter that’ll serve as all the evidence you need. Randle’s no wizard of a guard with handles, but he can put the ball where his teammates need it, and often does.
On a team this young, it’s a skill set that makes him almost invaluable. Now, I’m not going to sit here and talk up his passing as if it’s his natural strength. Randle’s passing derives almost directly from his ability to score from anywhere on the floor.
His physicality and size carries him down the lane, and he’s developed a touch on the ball that’s supplied his offensive arsenal with a reliable three-point shot. The forward lead all Pelicans last season with 1,565 points scored.
The last person to score 1,500+ on a year for the Knicks was Carmelo Anthony in his final year with the club (2016-2017), and before that? Amar’e Stoudemire in 2010-2011. New York hasn’t necessarily been home to any dominant scorers in recent year.
And for a team like the Knicks that finished last season 24th among the league in three-point makes (10 per game), and 28th in three-point percentage (.344), Randle’s game will help their biggest area of need: spacing the floor.
Then there’s his potential in the frontcourt, playing next to seven-foot center Mitchell Robinson, who’s offense doesn’t branch much farther than the free-throw line.
(And that’s just when he’s hammering dunks down like Michael Jordan in the end scene from Space Jam.)
Randle’s skillset is already proven next to a 7-foot center if you recall. While Anthony Davis is certainly a stronger player offensively, he holds the same size and limitations defensively as Robinson. But that didn’t stop a Randle-Davis duo recording the second-best two-man lineup for New Orleans last year.
His familiarity with that kind of size in a frontcourt partner, and ability to strengthen where Robinson weakens the offense makes him a no question fit in the frontcourt. Randle’s passing and knack for putting the ball through the basket make him the unanimous leader for this Knicks team as a whole.
There are a lot of questions surrounding the New York Knicks next season. But one that we can go ahead and cross off is Julius Randle’s role within the roster.
New York has longed for someone to take the reigns and drive the ship from the court itself. And now, in Randle, the Knicks may have a captain.