Julius Randle is having a career season, but playing for the tumultuous New York Knicks may work against him.
No, I don’t need to pump the brakes. I am not crazy, nor delusional, nor have I been swimming in the Hudson River again. It’s taken longer than some expected, but Julius Randle is finally playing at the level expected of him since the Los Angeles Lakers drafted him out of Kentucky in 2013.
Look at it this way: Though they have a losing record, the Knicks are actually somewhat relevant again and Randle is a big reason why. He is playing the best basketball of his career under coach Tom Thibodeau, and though not leading in any major offensive category, he’s clearly been a difference-maker.
If that isn’t an All-Star, then what is?
Always an All-Star
It’s like I said at the beginning: Julius Randle has always had All-Star potential. Before playing at Kentucky, he was a five-star recruit out of the Dallas area. Scouts saw how high his ceiling was long before he turned pro.
Sure enough, Randle was instrumental in leading the Wildcats to the NCAA Tournament Final in 2014 before the Lakers drafted him at No. 7 overall. Here was a 6-foot-9, 250-pound prospect all set to play for a storied franchise, and with an absolute legend in Kobe Bryant. What could go wrong?
Well, the answer is “a lot.” Randle’s rookie season lasted 14 minutes before a broken leg ended it. He recovered without a problem, but still struggled. The Lakers were then heavily on the decline, what with Bryant’s retirement and the drama of Magic Johnson’s front office. With no clear direction or coaching, Randle needed a change of scenery.
A career season with the New Orleans Pelicans later, and Randle landed a lucrative free-agent deal with the Knicks. Two years later, he’s having yet another career year that could best be honored by an All-Star selection.
New York rebirth
Keep in mind, this isn’t just some writer worshipping Julius Randle. Sure, I found him exciting as a college player, but it’s not like I have a shrine to him in my man cave.
But there’s no doubt that this year, Randle is in a gear that’s rarely been seen throughout his career. More importantly, he’s hitting it consistently. He’s averaging 22.6 points, 10.9 rebounds, and six assists per game — all career-highs. Randle is additionally shooting nearly 40% from three, unprecedented for burly power forwards.
But let’s look at the deeper numbers. Randle’s VORP is currently 1.3, not far behind the career-best of 2.0 he recorded in New Orleans. His Win Shares per 48 minutes (WS/48) is an above-average .151 and his defensive box plus/minus is a career-best 1.1.
Here’s the cherry on top: In scoring, Randle trails only Giannis Antetokounmpo and Zion Williamson among power forwards.
And yet, he averages nearly four more minutes per game than both of them.
Given how the Knicks have been the NBA’s red-headed stepchild for years, it won’t be a shock if Julius Randle doesn’t make the All-Star team. People will think of literally any reason not to vote for him.
“Ugh, he plays for the Knicks!”
Right, the same Knicks who play in the NBA’s largest media market and are considered the most valuable NBA franchise by Forbes. Record aside, the team knows how to market itself.
“He’s just the best player on a bad team.”
Valid argument, but the Knicks are only three games under .500. And even then, why is he on pace to reach a new career-best in VORP?
“He commits too many turnovers.”
Alright, fine. I’ll grant that. This season, Randle is averaging a career-worst 3.4 turnovers per game, but the Knicks are a top-10 team when it comes to protecting the ball. Russell Westbrook and James Harden are practically turnover machines, yet are considered superstars.
Why shouldn’t Julius Randle get similar praise this season?
It’s easy to write Randle off as a non-All-Star. The Knicks’ performance in recent years makes it tough to put any of their players under the All-Star umbrella. With so many questionable decisions made, subpar coaching, and only one good player among role players, it was easy for mid-tier talent to put up star-like numbers for years.
But the Knicks are different now. The team has new life in every way, shape, and form. Speaking of shape and form, Randle also happens to be in the best shape of his career.
If I may flex my nerd muscle, think of the Knicks’ current rebuild as the Avengers Initiative. Team president Leon Rose is Agent Coulson. Thibodeau and general manager Scott Perry are, collectively, Nick Fury.
Julius Randle, though not a billionaire playboy genius, is Iron Man, the perfect combination of power and finesse. When he’s not getting his hands dirty and drawing contact in the paint, he shows a velvet smooth touch from three and in the midrange. Oh, and did I mention he’s only third in the league in minutes behind Harden and Kevin Durant?
Randle should be an NBA All-Star. The fans know it. The players know it. Even the league knows it.
Let’s do the right thing and vote him in.