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Julius Randle’s strong play could help Knicks in long run

Julius Randle Knicks
Julius Randle
Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Even when things are starting to go well for Julius Randle, the Knicks continue to perform like the team that’s been the butt of NBA jokes over the last two decades. 

The 27-year-old who was the NBA’s most improved player of the year had fallen off the proverbial cliff in terms of his production. An offensive force that helped pace the Knicks to an improbable No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference last year looked like a shell of his former self for large portions of the first half of the 2021-22 season. 

It’s no surprise, therefore, that the Knicks have already lost more games than they have all of last season despite the All-Star break being just a few days away — even if RJ Barrett is proving himself as a cornerstone of the franchise.

Randle’s season has been marred by questions and controversy. Ranging from his commitment levels on defense to his desire to be a good teammate, to the now-famous thumbs-down gesture at Madison Square Garden that all but ruined his relationship with the Knicks faithful. 

At this point, it seems as though the relationship won’t be fixed, but Randle has picked up his game as of late — utilizing a west-coast road trip to rediscover his All-Star form. 

Over five games at the Lakers, Jazz, Nuggets, Warriors, and Blazers, Randle averaged 29.2 points, 12.8 rebounds, and 6.2 assists per game. On Monday night at Madison Square Garden, he kept it going with a triple-double of 30 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists.

Yet the Knicks have gone 1-5 in that six-game stretch, including a particularly bad loss to the now 18-39 Oklahoma City Thunder at home on Valentine’s Day. 

“We just have to find a way to be more conscious and aware of playing at a faster pace,” Randle said, pointing to the Knicks’ lack of energy as the main culprit of their struggles. “Especially off of misses and off of makes. We got to play, maybe not race it up, but we got to play at a faster tempo at the half-court.

“I’m never going to blame it on fatigue. I train myself every day to be prepared for those situations. I’m not going to blame it on legs.”

Now eight games under .500 (25-33), the Knicks sit in 12th place in the Eastern Conference — although just two games back of the 10th and final play-in spot for postseason play. This season, however, was supposed to provide another step forward toward consistent playoff contention. 

It’s been anything but that. 

The Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier deals haven’t worked out,  Derrick Rose has been dealing with injuries, Immanuel Quickley has regressed, and Randle just isn’t the guy that can carry this team. 

But his recent run of good form will help the Knicks in the long run with eyes ahead to the offseason. Should the forward maintain this sort of play, his value on the trade market will only increase. It will allow the Knicks to dangle a trade package headlined by him and some of their plentiful draft assets to potentially bring in a legitimate star that can create a formidable 1-2 punch with Barrett and get New York back on track toward becoming a threat in the Eastern Conference.

 

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