Julius Randle
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Julius Randle has gone from New York Knicks’ savior to their latest slog.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way when the New York Knicks re-signed Julius Randle.

Last season, his breakout year saw him excel in every category. Scoring. Rebounding. Passing. The man operated with T-1000 efficiency en route to being named the NBA’s Most Improved Player. And, let’s be honest, he probably should have received more MVP consideration.

Not even a full year later, and last year’s glorious rebirth is proving to be a tease worse than the 2012-13 aftermath. Even worse yet, Randle signed a $117 million extension in the offseason. Instead of continuing his new superstar run, he has instead gone the J.R. Smith route post-2013: paid, complacent, and just going through the motions.

And with a recent report from Marc Berman of The New York Post, Randle’s New York rebirth could be over just as quickly as it began.

Julius Randle has checked out

For most of the season, we tried to pin Randle’s struggles on a laundry list of reasons. After last year’s shortened season and almost miraculous run, the New York Knicks were tired. Kemba Walker isn’t a great fit at point guard. Evan Fournier’s ball dominance takes away touches from Randle.

But be that as it may, Berman has implied something none of us want to face: Julius Randle got paid and then got lazy. He isn’t helping teammates up when they’ve hit the floor, and the video shows it. In a recent home game, he spent a timeout chatting with his wife instead of in the huddle with the team.

This is the man whose motor literally carried the New York Knicks last season. Even with all the turnovers, Randle was all gas and no brakes, a V-8 engine that just wouldn’t quit.

Today, Randle’s scoring, rebounding, passing, and percentages are all down across the board while the turnovers have held steady. Julius Randle may technically still be in drive, but anyone who’s watched the Knicks this year can see he’s fully shifted to cruise control.

Consider this. VORP is basketball’s version of baseball’s WAR, and Randle had a 3.9 VORP last year. That translates to an absolutely incredible 10.5 WAR. This year, his 0.9 VORP translates to a 2.4 WAR and we’re already past the season’s midway point.

This is a big, big problem for the New York Knicks.

Should Julius Randle be traded?

All this to say, the reason for Berman’s article in the first place was speculating a potential trade involving Randle and Sacramento Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox. It’s certainly worth discussing, particularly since the Kings play New York at Madison Square Garden on Monday night.

Yet, the real story of the article was what we discussed above: how much Randle’s regression could literally be hurting the Knicks. The team currently sits 23-27, 12th in the Eastern Conference and 1.5 games out of the play-in tournament. In the event of another miracle run, the No. 6 Brooklyn Nets hold a 6.5 game lead for their spot.

His efforts all season have ranged from dominant to above average to just plain terrible. The thumbs-down drama is just something else to throw on the pile at this point.

Considering RJ Barrett has stepped up to lead by example and thrown his own percentages to the wind, perhaps packaging Randle and Walker for a De’Aaron Fox-like acquisition isn’t the worst idea.

Will Julius Randle be traded?

All this to say, Julius Randle still has support from the most important man in the room, coach Tom Thibodeau. After Randle pulled down 11 rebounds but scored just nine points in Friday’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, Thibodeau made a point to compliment his supposed star player.

“I don’t want to measure him on just scoring points,” Thibodeau said. “There’s the rebounding, passing, team defense, individual defense, leading us through adversity. He’s going to get a lot of attention because of who he is. We have to work through it as a team. It’s how can we help each other.’’

Three key words: as a team, from the same coach who, per one of Berman’s sources, is concerned by Randle’s lack of selflessness this year compared to last season. It’s even gotten to the point where some of his teammates are getting snippy about the team’s offense as a whole.

Final thoughts

The season is more than halfway over and the playoffs are slipping further away on a daily basis. New York Knicks fans have seen their team revert back to, well, being the Knicks.

It’s not too late to make a run to the playoffs, but time is indeed running short and Julius Randle reverting to last year’s form seems highly unlikely. Second-year man Obi Toppin, meanwhile, is showing continued improvement and itching for more playing time.

Again, no trade is imminent and the De’Aaron Fox talk is simply that: just talk. But at this rate, given how desperate Knicks fans are for continued consistency, there may be no other option but to trade Randle. There are two options: wait for him to turn things around and risk ending up in the lottery, or pull the plug and use him to try and trade for a more reliable point guard.

Leon Rose, your move.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.