New York Knicks: Evaluating Julius Randle’s breakout season

Powered by Julius Randle’s outstanding displays, the New York Knicks have been firing on all cylinders to start off their 2020-21 campaign.

Many experts predicted that they would be the worst team in the NBA. Most people had them amongst the few worst teams in the league. In an incredible fashion, the 2020-21 New York Knicks have been nothing short of excellent so far.

As of today, the almighty Knicks are 5-3 to start off the season. This has been the franchise’s best start to the season since Carmelo Anthony’s 2012-13 Knicks team. And even though the sample is still quite small, the signs have been nothing but promising for this young squad.

Most of these wins were against certified playoff teams, like the Indiana Pacers, the Utah Jazz and the Milwaukee Bucks. On top of that, they have never gone down without at least putting up a great fight for their opponents.

These accomplishments get even more impressive when you factor in the toughness of each team’s schedule. According to advanced statistics, the New York Knicks had the toughest first-half schedule to the season. Still not impressed?

Even though it has been a total team effort, with multiple players going off unexpectedly, one name seems to stand out the most when talking about New York’s recent success. That player is no other than Julius Randle, who is having his career-best year by a landslide.

Finally under a head coach that believes in him and knows how to utilize the talent we all know he possesses, Randle has flourished as a point-forward. Tom Thibodeau has allowed Randle to operate freely on offense make plays for his teammates and the results speak for themselves.

The main issues with Randle’s opening season as a Knick were his decreased efficiency and his tendency to post up while having 3-5 defenders on him, leading to unnecessary turnovers and fast-break points conceded.

So far, Randle is shooting career-high percentages in both his 3-point and free-throw attempts. Furthermore, his assists numbers have skyrocketed, now averaging more than double of last year’s tally. As a result, these previous issues are now considered to be fixed.

With a stat line of 23.1 points, 12.0 rebounds and 7.4 assists per game, Randle confidently occupies a slot on the “Way-too-early 2020-21 All-Stars” list. Even though he is playing the most minutes per game in the entire league, Randle’s numbers are in no way deceiving.

Obviously, it’s not all glitz and glamour! The main downside to Randle’s opening 8-game stretch has been the rate at which he is turning the ball over. By embracing a new playmaking role, he has increased his–already high– turnover numbers up to a staggering 4.9 TOs per game.

Luckily for the New York Knicks, this one major flaw has not seemed to affect the team at all. Quite the opposite actually, with Randle playing more on the perimeter, players like Elfrid Payton and RJ Barrett now have more space to drive to the basket, with Mitchell Robinson being less occupied to snatch up any offensive rebounds.

Due to his hot streak, Randle has faced some of the best defenders in the league. Rudy Gobert, Clint Capela and Myles Turner are all amongst the best of ’em when it comes to locking up opposing big men but failed to contain Thibodeau’s pride gem.

Will Julius Randle maintain this elite level of play? Realistically speaking, probably not. However, under a new coaching philosophy that better suits his style of play, Randle is bound to have an improved season, compared to his introductory New York Knicks campaign.

Tom Thibodeau has a tendency of overplaying his key squad members and that aspect of his is quite obvious early on. Will Randle and his teammates learn to embrace this challenging playstyle, or will they cave under pressure and fatigue?