Knicks' Julius Randle playing his way into Most Improved Player, All-NBA season

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Rafael Canton
·4 min read
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Knicks' Julius Randle treated image
Knicks' Julius Randle treated image

The Knicks keep on winning. After their 137-127 overtime win Wednesday night against the Atlanta Hawks, the Knicks (33-27) extended their winning streak to eight games, their longest in seven years. New York is a season-high six games over .500. More importantly, the team has taken control of the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.

To start this season, no one would have imagined the Knicks would be competing for homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

At the center of New York’s return to respectability is All-Star power forward Julius Randle. Averaging 23.9 points, 10.5 rebounds and 6.1 assists in 59 games, Randle’s ascendance has been a revelation. After his 40-point, 11-rebound, six-assist masterpiece on Wednesday night, the seven-year veteran has tallied at least 30 points in five of the past six games.

The Knicks’ success on the court and Randle’s string of impressive individual performances has made him a shoe-in for the All-NBA team. Voted on by 100 sportswriters and broadcasters, the All-NBA team is a special award that rewards what many consider to be the top 15 players in the NBA each season.

Most Improved Player-Caliber Season

Last year was a nightmare for both Randle and the Knicks. The forward was erratic as a shooter, missing 18 of his first 19 three-point attempts on his way to 27.7 percent from three. Turnovers were a huge issue and he played a big part in New York’s 21-45 record. Randle committed himself in the offseason to improve his game and he’s turned his Knicks tenure around. The All-Star forward has elevated his game across the board. He’s also thrown his hat in the ring for Most Improved Player of the Year consideration.

A below-average shooter for his entire career, he’s turned it around, shooting 41 percent on 310 attempts from behind the three-point line. The days of Randle dribbling into three defenders and coughing up the rock are a distant memory. He’s kept his turnover rate close to identical while nearly doubling his assist rate.

Over the past several games, Randle has drawn more double teams, but has excelled in making plays out of the extra help that teams bring to contain him in isolation. Randle has had at least five dimes in 11 of the last 13 games.

The Knicks have struggled to generate quality looks when Randle is on the bench. Already in the bottom third of the association in offensive efficiency, the Knicks offense plummets to 105.3 points per 100 possessions while Randle has been off the floor. That number would be 27th in the NBA right now. Randle’s defense has also taken a step forward as he’s been more committed on that end of the floor.

Randle’s game has transformed in many ways to say the least. According to Basketball Reference, he is taking just 17.5 percent of his shot attempts from 0-3 feet. His previous low before that was 35.8 percent last season. Early in his career, Randle was a bull in a china shop on drives, knocking defenders over with reckless abandon. Now, he’s evolved into a swan in the mid-post, using pirouettes, step backs, and jab steps to catch his defender off balance. The baseline fadeaway jumper and pull-up shot out of the post have become consistent go-tos in Randle’s arsenal.

Mr. Reliable

As the saying goes, the best ability is availability. Randle has had a taxing load to adjust to. He’s playing a career-high and league-high 37.4 minutes per game. Randle has played at least 40 minutes 13 different times this season. He’s involved in almost every action for the Knicks and has only missed one game with a thigh contusion.

Randle’s carrying a responsibility that very few players have had. With the individual stats, and his massive improvement, there’s a lot on his shoulders to carry the team as their primary scorer, ball handler and playmaker. With the team winning with Randle in that role, it’s hard to see Randle not making the team.

All-NBA Musical Chairs

With only six available spots for forwards on the All-NBA team, Randle will face competition. Zion Williamson, Jimmy Butler, Jayson Tatum are a few of the names who will compete with Randle. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard are locks to make the All-NBA team.

LeBron James is likely still going to earn a spot on the All-NBA team despite missing 17 games and counting this season. His teammate Anthony Davis likely will miss out since he’s been out for 35 games. Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant is also unlikely to earn the honor due to injury as well.

If Randle keeps up his performance and the Knicks continue their winning ways, the awards and recognition should take care of itself. Randle’s done enough on both ends of the floor to earn top-15 status in the NBA.