NEW YORK, NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 29: Julius Randle #30 of the New York Knicks smiles in the final minute of the game against the Chicago Bulls at Madison Square Garden on February 29, 2020 in New York City.The New York Knicks defeated the Chicago Bulls 125-115.NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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The New York Knicks are struggling to win games with their high-priced free agent, Julius Randle, failing to live up to expectations.

Chip Murphy

New York Knicks forward Julius Randle told the New York Post’s Marc Berman back in October that his biggest goal this season was to make everyone around him better and be an extension of the coach. He really said that.

This all started because David Fizdale decided to tinker with Randle’s game following his breakout season. The former coach believed Randle had these unearthed playmaker skills lurking under the surface of his one-dimensional game. Fiz was going to be the one to dig them up.

I’d love to ask Fizdale what made him believe so strongly in Randle. There was undoubtedly no statistical evidence to suggest it was the right move.

In Randle’s lone season with New Orleans, he was the only player in the league with more than 200 turnovers and fewer than 230 assists.

Since the 25-year-old entered the league in 2014-15, he’s one of four players with more than 900 turnovers and fewer than 1,100 assists.

Randle’s career-high in dishing was 3.6 per game back in the 2016-17 season, and even that was a little bit of fool’s gold. Randle was playing with D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson.

According to pbpstats.com, Randle had nearly a quarter of his assists that season while on the court with that crew. Somebody had to pass the ball.

Here are some clips from the Randle, DLo, Clarkson trio because I thought it’d be interesting. Let’s say, for context, I guess.

But even when he was firmly on the hot seat, Fiz defended Randle the way Rex Ryan defended Mark Sanchez. Minus the tattoo, I hope.

Look, there’s no denying Randle is talented. He scored 21 points per game on better than 52% shooting during his breakout season. But he has no Anthony Davis or Jrue Holiday with the Knicks.

According to pbpstats.com, Randle scored 653 points (more than half his season total of 1,089) in the more than two thousand possessions he shared the court with Davis. Holiday and Davis combined to assist on 20% of Randle’s made field goals.

There are plenty of other indications that Randle was put in a bad spot from the start. In 2018-19, 53.9% of Randle’s makes were assisted. In a perfect world, Randle is cutting more away from the ball, rolling to the basket or posting up, and not setting up the offense himself.

 

Under Fizdale, over 64% of his makes were unassisted. With plenty of time left to go, Randle already has more iso possessions under his belt than he did in all of 2018-19. Did I mention that was his breakout year?

But even with Fiz gone, Randle is still the focal point of his team’s offense. He leads the New York Knicks in minutes, points, shots, rebounds, and usage percentage. For context, a few other players who lead their teams in these categories are Luka Doncic, Kawhi Leonard, and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Part of the reason Randle was so successful last season is his work around the basket. Randle took 72% of his shots from within 10 feet of the rim last season, and this season he’s down to just 60%.

Meanwhile, his three-point attempt rate is a career-high, and he’s one of the worst in the league from beyond the arc.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe reaffirmed what Knicks fans have been saying about Randle all season when he spoke about Randle’s bad fit with RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson.

Robinson plays his entire offensive game in the paint, and Barrett’s inconsistent shot prevents him from keeping defenses honest. The kids need as much space as possible, and with Randle, that just won’t happen.

The league is predicated on three-point shooting so building a starting lineup around RJ and Mitch shouldn’t be rocket science. Get shooters!

The Knicks need floor spacers, and Randle isn’t that guy. As a team, the Knicks are last in three-point makes and 27th in percentage.

With Fiz on ESPN, Elfrid Payton has taken over as Randle’s chief enabler. Payton and Randle were in the same draft class; they’re both repped by CAA, and were teammates last season in New Orleans. 

In theory, that level of closeness should be good for a team’s chemistry. Instead, it’s created a “you’re not cool enough to sit at our lunch table” vibe with the CAA bros and RJ. By all accounts, the teammates like each other off the court, but they act like sworn enemies on it.

According to Cleaning The Glass, when Randle, Payton, and Barrett share the floor, the Knicks are just -0.4 points per 100 possessions. In a cruel twist of fate, the Knicks are +1.5 when Randle and Payton are on the court without Barrett.

There were plenty of reasons not to like the Payton signing, but in my wildest nightmares, I didn’t think Elfrid Payton would be logging 30 minutes a night for this team in March.  

The so-called savvy veteran point guard feeds Randle on possession after possession, no matter the circumstance. Meanwhile, Barrett could go full Klay Thompson for an entire quarter, and Payton would come out in the next period looking for Randle.

According to NBA.com, Payton has thrown more than 29% of his passes to Randle this season. Barrett is second at 12.4%. This play from a game against Cleveland back in February sums up the entire season.

To put that in context, LeBron James throws 23% of his passes to Anthony Davis and 16.9% to Danny Green. So yeah, Danny Green is getting more love than the future of the New York Knicks franchise. Sorry, I’m not done.

That’s not the worst of it. Since the Marcus Morris trade, more than 40% of Randle’s passes have been to Payton. That’s insane.

But how close are Elf and Randle? Nobody could like playing basketball with Julius Randle or Elfrid Payton that much. Something’s up here. Are Randle and Payton that good of friends, or is Randle just lazy?

It’s possible that when Randle doesn’t feel like shooting the ball, he just looks at the point guard and throws it right back. That would explain the lousy assist numbers. So I decided to take another quick look at the passes dashboard, and I’m glad I did.

More than 26% of Randle’s passes last season went to Holiday. In 2016-17, he threw 34% of his passes to DLo, and the year before that, 38%.

(Crazy stat that I had to share about the 2016-17 season: Randle threw 1,019 of his passes to Russell and 319 of his passes to Nick Young, but still had more assists to Young. How does that happen?)

It’s safe to say that Randle has picked up a few bad habits during his career.

Knicks fans may recognize this move from the 2015-16 season.

But all hope isn’t lost for Randle. He was good as a pseudo-second or third option in New Orleans, and he can do it again. He just can’t be that guy on this team.

The next step for Randle should be playing more center. According to Cleaning The Glass, Randle played 70% of his minutes at the five last season, and New Orleans had a +0.9 efficiency differential.

In New York, Randle has played just 5% of his minutes at center. Nobody is arguing that Randle should take minutes from Mitch but that the two aren’t a fit at all.

Randle’s next coach, whoever it is, needs to have an honest talk with him about what his role should be. Unlike Fizdale, who filled Randle’s head with delusions of grandeur about making other players better and running an offense.

  • All statistics are pulled from Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted and are accurate as of March 9, 2020.

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