The Knicks got some good news on the Julius Randle front Monday. Adrian Wojnarowski reported tests on the All-Star’s dislocated right shoulder so far show he will miss “weeks, and not months.”
As testing continues on Knicks All-Star F Julius Randle’s right shoulder, indications are optimistic that his absence will be measured in weeks and not months, sources tell ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) January 29, 2024
Randle was in the middle of another great season before suffering the injury late in New York’s 125-109 over Miami on Saturday. He finished the game with 19 points and nine rebounds. For the season, Randle is averaging 24 points, 9.2 rebounds, and five assists per game.
But even though the team has gone 12-2 this month, including winning its last six, the Knicks are about to face their first real test. We saw firsthand in the playoffs last year how much this team needs Julius Randle. Now, they may be without him for weeks, and without a viable power forward behind him.
Granted, this isn’t to say the Knicks are sunk. Assuming Randle misses, say, three weeks, he’s likely to miss eight games. Maybe ten if New York plays it safe and gives him extra time to recover. Remember, Randle shoots left-handed and is the Knicks’ workhorse. If he finds a way to play with one good arm, he will.
It also helps that the Knicks have a soft-ish schedule over their next ten games. Only four are against playoff teams, and two of those are against the Pacers. The rest are all either non-playoff squads or teams in the play-in tourney.
And even so, this could still be coach Tom Thibodeau’s biggest test in New York. The Knicks are already down serious size with Mitchell Robinson’s broken ankle. Isaiah Hartenstein is playing through a sore calf and Precious Achiuwa can’t replicate Randle’s scoring.
What’s the plan? Evan Fournier (Yes, he’s still here) isn’t an option, with the Post’s Stefan Bondy reporting he’s not with the team in Charlotte for personal reasons. Maybe Achiuwa gets a chance at the 4 and Thibodeau lets Jalen Brunson run the show and OG Anunoby steps up as New York’s No. 2 guy.
Or maybe Thibodeau takes a page from his old boss Jeff Van Gundy’s playbook and uses smaller lineups? Remember, in the Knicks’ run to the 1999 NBA Finals, Patrick Ewing’s balky Achilles forced him out in the East Finals. There’s no way Chris Dudley or Kurt Thomas would fill the void left by him.
Thus, Van Gundy and his trusty assistant Tom Thibodeau changed tack and used smaller, guard-driven lineups. Guys like Chris Childs and Larry Johnson stepped up alongside Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell. A young Marcus Camby kept blossoming as a dominant young big.
Now, let’s think of how that approach can work today while Julius Randle recovers. The NBA is more guard-driven than it was in 1999, and by a long shot. Jalen Brunson has the ice water in his veins and guys like Josh Hart, OG Anunoby, and Quentin Grimes have the tenacity to up their efforts along with him.
And once Hartenstein’s leg is feeling better again? He’ll handle the paint with ease.
Better yet, the rest of the team is well aware of the situation and how much everyone has to step up while Randle’s shoulder heals.
“That has us in good spirits that he’s not going to be out too long,” says Hart. “We have to stay afloat during that time. I think we have the pieces to do that.”
But planning is one thing, executing said plan is another. This is the very risk team president Leon Rose assumed when he traded away Obi Toppin last summer. It was the right move, but now the Knicks must get creative without their star.
There’s only so much the Knicks can afford to lose. Hopefully, the next few weeks without Julius Randle don’t make or break New York’s season.