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Julius Randle is having a career season, making it time the New York Knicks and his agent talk money.

Josh Benjamin

Don’t look now, but Julius Randle is having an MVP-caliber season.

It’s easy for New York Knicks fans to miss him. After all, the team has hyped the RJ Barrett Express to high heaven. Rookie Obi Toppin has generated some excitement despite playing in just one game. Austin Rivers was the king of the fourth quarter in Wednesday night’s win over the Utah Jazz.

And in the middle of it all, Randle is playing out of his mind. He is averaging 23.1 points, 12 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game. During the Knicks’ three-game winning streak, he is averaging 23.3 points, 14.7 rebounds, and eight assists.

Randle is also shooting 48.5% from the field and 34.4% from three. The nearly five turnovers a game are concerning, but the rest of his production more than makes up for it.

There is no doubt that as of now, Julius Randle is the no-doubt MVP of the Knicks. However, with the young Toppin waiting in the wings, New York soon has to make a decision on Randle’s future in the Big Apple.

No surprises

Now, at first blush, it may seem Julius Randle is overachieving. If we look at bare numbers, he probably is.

Entering this season, Randle averaged just 16.1 points, nine rebounds, and 2.8 assists for his career. He had never had a VORP above 2.0. In fact, ever since breaking his leg in his first-ever NBA game in 2014, Randle always seemed to be looked at as a “good” player as opposed to “great,” let alone “very good.”

But let’s be honest. Didn’t we always know Randle was this good? He was a McDonald’s All-American and five-star talent at Prestonwood Christian Academy in the Dallas area. In his sole year at Kentucky, he led the Wildcats with 15 points and 10.4 rebounds en route to the NCAA Tournament Championship Game.

Now, Randle is playing at the highest level he ever has in his career. Surely, it’s not too early to shoot a new scene for Space Jam: A New Legacy and unveil him as the ringer for the New Monstars, right?

More importantly, Randle has earned the praise of his coach.

“He’s our engine,” Tom Thibodeau said following the win over Utah. “He plays with a lot of toughness, and there’s a lot of multiple-effort plays that he’s making, but he’s also playing very unselfishly.”

You see, it wasn’t just if Julius Randle would turn out to be this good an NBA player, but when.

Big questions

However, Randle’s success means the New York Knicks have some serious decisions to make down the road.

At the heart of the matter is the three-year, $62.1 million deal he signed with the Knicks in 2019. Only the first two years are guaranteed, and New York just drafted Toppin to be their power forward of the future. Even playing behind Randle, we have to assume Thibodeau will give him some significant minutes once he’s back from his strained calf.

Now, consider Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic predicted this would be Randle’s final year as a Knick. He pointed out Randle is only guaranteed $4 million for next year, and the Knicks would likely trade him to a team willing to pay him the full $19.8 million. Given the Knicks’ recent obsession with creating cap space, this could still happen.

Except, it’s a new era under Leon Rose. Furthermore, next summer’s free agency class isn’t as deep as it once was. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Rudy Gobert both signed supermax extensions with their respective teams. Kawhi Leonard could be a target, sure, but do the Knicks really need him at this point?

It’s also worth noting that while Toppin has range and can also work the low post, he’s still a raw talent. He can’t just be Mr. Dunk & Three his whole career.

Yet, by keeping Julius Randle for another year, the Knicks can give Toppin more time to develop, not to mention maintain the new momentum they’ve just found.

Final thoughts

All in all, the New York Knicks have to know what they have with Randle right now. His strong play has made him a dark horse candidate in the way too early MVP conversation. No disrespect to Barrett, but Randle has been the heartbeat of the Knicks this season.

And even though the Knicks have higher priorities now, namely figuring out if fans can return to Madison Square Garden this season, they shouldn’t forget about Randle. Remember, COVID-19 led to massive financial losses for MSG Corp. That means the more players who can put butts in seats, the better.

The season is young and the sample size small, but Julius Randle is one of those players. Paired with Barrett, Toppin, and the rest of his teammates, he can help usher in a new era of New York Knicks basketball. Next season, as the team continues rebuilding (or, at this point, competing) via the draft, having Randle could prove a boon.

Now, the Knicks just need to decide if he’s worth it or if they’d rather gamble without him.