Ask any New York Knicks fan what they thought of Julius Randle 365 days ago, and they probably wouldn’t have had many nice things to say. You most likely would’ve gotten a response along the lines of, “I hope he doesn’t play another minute for this franchise.” Fast forward one year, and he’s not only still on the roster, but officially named a two-time All-Star –– his second selection in three seasons.
It has certainly been quite the roller coaster for the 28-year-old forward throughout his Knicks tenure, from Kevin Durant consolation prize to Most Improved Player to receiving boos on the court last season. So, how did we end up back here, with the New York fanbase once again embracing its star?
Julius Randle had a poor 2021-22 campaign
And that’s putting it lightly. According to Basketball Reference, Randle had the sixth worst raw on-off rating in the NBA, better than only Garrett Temple, Facundo Campazzo, Cam Thomas, Eric Paschall, and Drew Eubanks. Among qualifying players with at least 15 field goal attempts per game, the 6’8 Kentucky product had the third-lowest true shooting percentage at 50.9%, ahead of just Reggie Jackson and rookie Cade Cunningham.
In other words, Randle was not only one of the worst high-volume offensive players in the league but one of the most downright detrimental players in terms of helping his team win games.
These numbers, along with the context of Randle having just received a 4-year, $117 million contract extension, left an extremely sour and nearly irremediable taste in the mouths of Knick fans last season.
However, Randle has bounced back once again, regaining his 2020-21 form—although much different this time (more on that later)—and is an offensive cog for a team currently sitting sixth in the Eastern Conference standings.
Julius Randle is having a phenomenal 2022–23 campaign.
If you were to just observe Randle’s numbers from afar, you would probably be able to tell that he had a down year in 2021–22 sandwiched between two much better seasons. In 20-21 and 22-23 combined, Randle’s averages are 24 points per game, 10 rebounds per game, and 5 assists per game. In 21-22, he saw a noticeable dip in scoring, faltering to 20 points per game while maintaining his 10 rebounds and 5 assists.
Yet, the difference of 4 points per game doesn’t do justice to how much better Randle has looked this season compared to last. His true shooting percentage has risen from 50.9% to 58%, a stark contrast that speaks to his improved process and shot selection. And generally, Randle looks more in control of the flow of the game and seems to be much more poised when operating with the ball in his hands.
Randle is one of four players averaging 24/10/4 on the season. The other three? Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Joel Embiid are pretty good company.
Why Randle’s current playstyle feels more sustainable than the 2020-21
Upon further investigation of Randle’s numbers, it seems safe to call this level of play more sustainable than that of his first All-Star campaign for multiple reasons. However, most of them can be attributed to the Knicks’ major offseason acquisition and best point guard of the last decade-plus, Jalen Brunson.
When asked how Brunson would impact his game in his media day press conference last September, Randle predicted it best:
"“I think it will be easier for me [to score]. When you have to create a lot with the ball in your hands, it can be tough because the defense has all eyes on you at all times. So for me, being able to get some things off-the-ball, whether it’s running the floor [in transition], pick-and-roll, cuts, offensive rebounds … I just think it will make the game easier for myself and I’ll be able to help my teammates more.”"
When Elfrid Payton was the table-setter for the offense in the 20-21 season, Randle had a ridiculous 51.0 effective field-goal percentage on all shots from 10 feet and out. 36% of his field goal attempts came between that 10-foot mark and the 3-point line. He was taking extremely tough shots consistently, and somehow making them. But most reasonable minds could see how that number was unsustainable, with Randle’s previous career effective field-goal percentage on those shots being 38.6%.
With Brunson in the fold, Randle has cut his mid-range volume in half to just 17%, while increasing the amount of three-point shots from 29% to 43% of his volume. Even more importantly, the percentage of shots Randle is taking at the rim is up to 25% compared to just 16% two seasons ago. Randle’s turnover percentage is also the lowest of his career at 11.7% while his free throw rate is up to .399, the highest of his Knicks tenure.
Credit to Randle and the coaching staff for recognizing a change in his shot profile was necessary. Kudos to Randle for executing the plan to perfection. And a shoutout to Jalen Brunson for bringing out a new-and-improved version of All-Star Julius Randle that should be fueling the Knicks’ offense for the rest of this season and beyond.