new york knicks julius randle
(via Knicks Instagram)

The New York Knicks stay hot as Julius Randle continues to build on his impressive All-Star caliber season.

  • New York Knicks 123 (14-15)
  • Atlanta Hawks 112 (11-16)
  • NBA, Final, Box Score
  • Madison Square Garden, New York, NY

Is Julius Randle turning into a bonafide star before our very eyes? Are the New York Knicks for real? When was the last time the Knicks were this exciting?

The Knicks are humming right now, beating the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night to extend their current winning streak to three games. Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau is doing a masterful job with this roster and for the first time in what feels like forever, the Knicks look like a playoff squad.

Here are three highlights and three observations from New York’s 123-112 win over Atlanta.

Highlight 1: Rose To Barrett

Highlight 2: Nerlens Noel Block Party

Highlight 3: Julius Randle 3-Point Sniper

Observation 1: Julius Randle Is An All-Star

Julius Randle is an All-Star. It’s as simple as that. Yes, there are plenty of deserving guys in the Eastern Conference, but few are doing as much to elevate their teammates. The Knicks are 14-15, firmly in the playoff conversation, and Randle is looking comfortable as the first banana.

The long offseason did wonders for Randle. In year seven, he is setting career-highs in just about every statistic, but his three-point shooting is the golden ticket.

“He’s always been terrific off the dribble he’s always had the back to the basket game, but getting comfortable shooting the three has added a lot to his game,” Thibodeau explained to reporters during his postgame Zoom. “I think the playmaking, some really good plays that got us high percentage quality threes. And it’s his all-around play that is setting the tone for the team.”

Although Randle fell one point short of his career-high on Monday night, he set a new career mark for three-pointers made with seven. Don’t look now, but Randle is shooting 40.6% from deep.

Randle used the offseason chatter about him as motivation to come back stronger in year two with the Knicks. He admits that he was disappointed in the way he performed last season, but growth comes from adversity.

“You know a lot of people may have wrote me off,” Randle said after the win. “A lot of people may have had doubts or whatever it may be and that was just motivation. For me, it was just about coming back a better player and a better teammate than I was last year.”

If becoming a better teammate was on his list of goals for this season, then mission accomplished. After the win, a trio of Knicks hijacked Randle’s courtside interview to make his All-Star case.

Observation 2: The Knicks Smell Like A Playoff Team

If it looks like a playoff team, swims like a playoff team, and quacks like a playoff team, then it probably is a playoff team.

We have yet to reach the halfway point of this 72-game schedule, but it’s late enough in the season to declare the Knicks a legitimate playoff contender, right? They are past the point of scrappy upstart that is expected to fade away. The Knicks mean business this season.

Of course, the naysayers will point to the injury report as a reason for the three-game winning streak. The Wizards, Rockets, and Hawks were all missing key players when they played the Knicks.

However, the orange and blue have not been spared by the injury bug. Mitchell Robinson is out four to six weeks with a fracture in his right hand. Moreover, they have no control over who they play. Good teams take advantage of shorthanded teams.

The Knicks smell like a playoff team.

Observation 3: Is Trae Young A Villain?

Is Trae Young the NBA’s next great villain? He’s working on it. Young shot 10 free throws in the first half on a few very questionable calls. The Knicks made the proper adjustments at halftime, limiting the dynamic point guard to just two free throws in the second half.

His foul-drawing prowess is turning heads around the NBA, but not out of admiration. Coaches like Brooklyn’s Steve Nash have even come out and criticized his tactics.

He can be frustrating to watch when he’s drawing ticky-tack fouls, but he’s not a full-blown villain yet. The Hawks are not good enough for Young to be a great NBA villain. If and when Atlanta finally becomes a legitimate threat in the East, Young could become the diet version of James Harden.

NY/NJ hoops reporter (NBA/NCAA) & sports betting writer for XL Media. Never had the makings of a varsity athlete.