The Julius Randle of old has returned to the New York Knicks.
For the last week or so, Julius Randle has looked a new man for the New York Knicks.
Forget the moody lumbering up and down the court or getting chippy with assistant coaches. His route of either trying too hard or putting in an otherwise lackadaisical effort seems to have disappeared.
Whatever the reason, being past the stress of the trade deadline or a new pregame routine, the Randle of old is back. He’s averaging 27.3 points, 12.7 rebounds, and 6.7 assists in February while shooting 45.6% from the field. The only thing Julius Randle hasn’t done well during this stretch is shooting the three, but it isn’t a problem thanks to his once again dominating the paint.
And the Knicks have followed Randle’s lead and played hard enough this road trip to…come home literally limping after going 1-5. Save for Thursday’s stunning win over Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors, New York looked overrun, outmatched, and outplayed for much of their trip out west.
RJ Barrett sprained his ankle in the final seconds of a blowout loss in Denver. Mitchell Robinson and Cam Reddish went down with sore ankles in Saturday’s game, which saw the Knicks blow a 23-point lead and subsequently lose in Portland. There’s no timetable for Barrett’s return, and Robinson’s durability issues aren’t ever going away.
Thus, the question presents itself. Can the revitalized Julius Randle carry the New York Knicks the rest of the way?
Julius Randle needs more help
The short answer is, in a word, no.
Every team has a star player, but the supporting cast is just as important. Steph Curry needs Klay Thompson. Michael Jordan needed Scottie Pippen. The list goes on.
Similarly, Julius Randle and RJ Barrett proved to be a great 1-2 punch for the Knicks last year. Every Batman needs his Robin and both players filled their respective roles quite well. Add Derrick Rose’s leadership and productivity off the bench, and it’s a recipe for success.
The Knicks’ problem all year long has been replicating the very success that made them everyone’s favorite underdogs in 2021. Randle, the reigning Most Improved Player, has regressed despite his recent hot streak. Barrett had also seen his numbers dip this season but was playing well before his injury.
But besides their core duo, the rest of the Knicks have struggled. Evan Fournier has had some great moments in a Knicks uniform, but he’s either Jekyll or Hyde on the court. If he isn’t playing well, he’s a nightmare. Up until recently, Kemba Walker has looked utterly lost playing for his hometown team.
If Mitchell Robinson and Nerlens Noel are healthy on the same night, it’s a miracle. Alec Burks is still the team swingman, but just as streaky as Fournier.
That leaves Derrick Rose, who was playing well off the bench before injuring his ankle in mid-December. I even wrote about how important having his leadership on the court was to this New York team.
A lack of focus and leadership later, and it’s no wonder Julius Randle has seemed moody at times. Where’s the consistent supporting cast?
Thankfully for Randle, the Knicks have two games left before the All-Star Break and should win both of them despite being shorthanded. The Oklahoma City Thunder have won 17 games all year despite beating New York on New Year’s Eve, but now must contend with a Madison Square Garden crowd.
The crosstown rival Brooklyn Nets also visit Wednesday, but they’re not much better than the Knicks right now. They’ve lost 11 in a row, just traded James Harden, won’t have Kyrie Irving because of New York City’s vaccination mandate, and Kevin Durant is injured too.
All signs thus point to Julius Randle continuing to play in top form this week. However, it’s all the more important that the rest of the Knicks give him the support he needs, as well as two much-needed wins.