Do the Knicks have a Julius Randle problem?

Julius Randle Knicks
New York Knicks’ Julius Randle (30) dunks in front of Detroit Pistons’ Isaiah Stewart (28) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Nov. 11, 2022, in New York. The Knicks won 121-112. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

On Sunday, Julius Randle scored 25 points and collected ten rebounds and three assists. He also had a -10 plus-minus during his time on the court, and the Knicks were beaten 145-135 by a tanking Oklahoma City Thunder team. 

That’s been the story for much of the year with Randle: strong enough surface-level stats to cover up another ineffective season that has been torpedoing New York’s chances of making clear gains with a roster full of intriguing young talent.

Heading into Sunday afternoon’s game, Randle was averaging 20.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 3.1 turnovers a game on 45.6% shooting from the field. However, he has also become a real liability for the Knicks in a few aspects of the game. 

For starters, I covered last week how Randle’s pick-and-roll defense has been the focal point of opposing offenses. Randle has far too often sagged off of his man into the paint when coming off the screen and then been unable to recover and contest the shot. Boston attacked him on the pick-and-roll 17 teams during their game, knocking down 10 threes on those 17 plays. 

According to RAPTOR, FiveThirtyEight’s metric that uses play-by-play and player-tracking data to calculate each player’s individual plus-minus measurements and wins above replacement, Randle scores a -4.1 for his defense. That makes him the third-worst power forward in the NBA, ahead of just Drew Eubanks and Jordan Nwora, both of whom play significantly fewer minutes.

Randle’s -4.1 is the worst ranking on the Knicks, with RJ Barrett coming in second-worst at -2.6 in defensive RAPTOR. 

You can see some of his defensive issues just from Sunday’s game against the Thunder in this edited video:

However, it’s not just his defensive effort. Randle also has a -0.9 offensive RAPTOR, which gives him a -5.0 total score. Evan Fournier is next-worst on the team at -4.5. Randle’s -0.5 WAR is also the worst on the team, which Fournier also finishing just ahead of him. 

In fact, Randle has the second-worst WAR in the entire Eastern Conference. Just Killian Hayes on the Detroit Pistons ranked worse coming into Sunday’s game. 

There seem to be a few keys as to why Randle scores poorly in offensive metrics despite having strong surface-level stats. For starters, Randle’s three-point shooting has gotten worse since his strong season in 2020-21. He’s currently shooting 31.9% from deep after shooting 41.1% in his All-Star season.

However, Randle is still averaging over five three-point attempts per game. 

Which is another part of the issue with Randle: he too often stops the flow of the offense. New York now has a strong point guard in Jalen Brunson and an emerging wing player in RJ Barrett, but too many offensive possessions end in Julius Randle trying to score out of isolation. 

Out of isolation, Randle is averaging .57 points per possession, 29.2 FG%, and a 20% turnover frequency. All of those are worse than his numbers last year, yet Randle continues to operate out of isolation sets and head coach Tom Thibodeau continues to allow it. 

Meanwhile, as Randle continues to underperform on the court, his presence at power forward forces the Knicks to keep former first-round pick Obi Toppin on the bench.

Toppin has shown clear improvements as a shooter and defender this season and frequently sparks New York rallies with the second unit; however, he has been unable to earn larger minutes because it’s hard to keep him and Randle on the court together. For example, on Sunday, Toppin had 10 points and two rebounds on 80% shooting but played only seven minutes in the second half as New York because Randle barely left the court. 

With New York clearly not contending for a championship, their emphasis needs to be on building for the future. That includes more minutes for Toppin and other young players like Cam Reddish and Quentin Grimes. However, none of that can happen while Julius Randle is still around, playing 30+ ineffective minutes per game. 

It’s likely best for both Randle and the New York Knicks if the two part ways, but it remains to be seen if there’s any team in the NBA willing to take on the remaining three years and approximately $80 million of Randle’s contract. 

Until New York can find a taker, it’s fair to wonder if they’ll ever take the developmental steps that their fans are clamoring for. 

For more Knicks coverage, visit amNY Sports

Julius Randle Knicks
Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards (1) works toward the basket against New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Nov. 7, 2022, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

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