Towards the end of the New York Knicks’ second round loss to the Miami Heat, it was clear that All-NBA forward Julius Randle was not playing his basketball. Fans were quick to label his performance as another example of his inability to play at a high level in the postseason.
But it was later reported that the Kentucky product was playing through an injured left ankle that he aggravated before the first round of the NBA Playoffs. He recently underwent successful surgery, and is primed to return to action by the start of the regular season.
Given his poor performance against Miami, a number of Knicks fans were more than ready to move on from Randle this offseason and look to trade him as part of a larger package that could include a star player to pair with Jalen Brunson.
It’s easy to discredit Randle based solely off his playoff stat line, but one must remember that without his presence in the regular season, New York would not have been in the playoff picture. In addition to receiving the aforementioned All-NBA nod, Randle also made his second All-Star appearance, and led the Knicks in points and minutes per game.
His game is not perfect. He goes through intense stretches where he appears unstoppable, and other times during which his body language and on-court performance do not match what one would expect from a star.
The key to understanding Randle’s importance to the Knicks is embracing the fact he’s not a “superstar.” After the 2020-21 season, it was clear that Randle needed help. For as good as the forward was during the 72-game regular season, his style of play at that time was reliant on favorable isolation matchups. His play improved once Brunson arrived last season, and it is more than fair to argue that another piece would allow Randle to play more productive postseason basketball.
Furthermore, while fans and analysts have also griped about Randle’s body language and erratic demeanor, it’s important to note that tempers can (and will) flare throughout the course of an 82-game season. Combine this with the fact that the Knicks play in one of the world’s largest media markets, and you’ve got a recipe for some less than flawless moments. In his recent appearance on Paul Geroge’s “Podcast P“, Randle mentioned that the Big Apple environment has helped him grow, even while being particularly challenging for him and his family.
Honestly, I love it. [New York City] made me the player I am today. It pushes me,” Randle said. “It all depends on how you look at it. It’s been tough on some people, and it’s been tough for me, it’s been tough on my family.“
Through the ups and downs, it is quite possible that he could be one of the more influential leaders in the locker room next season. Unless the return is an All-Star caliber talent, the Knicks should not deal Randle. His production is a valuable asset that will only be enhanced by more additions to the roster. As for the impact he’s had and could continue to have on the team’s culture, it would be foolish to assume that the last three years have not had a positive effect on Randle.
Who better to help lead the charge than an individual who has been both the scapegoat and the savior? Perhaps more than anyone else, Julius Randle understands that building a winning culture in New York is not a process for the faint of heart.