Julius Randle of the New York Knicks has had a stunning fall from grace. Especially after being voted the league’s Most Improved Player, along with All-NBA Second team honors. Fast forward a matter of months, he’s gone from the talk of the town, to the focus of fans ire. It has become abundantly clear the Knicks have a Julius Randle problem. Due to his visibly poor effort on both ends of the court combined with the Knicks losing six of their past seven games, and having a 23-27 record.
What has precipitated this fall from grace? We will examine Randle’s performances this year and where the Knicks go moving forward.
New York Knicks have a Julius Randle problem
Randle’s steep drop-off in performance- a look at the numbers
Randle earned himself a 4 year $117 million contract for his success last season. Carrying the Knicks to a 4th seed in the Eastern Conference and a playoff spot. Engendering a wave of goodwill in New York.
Things have gone wrong for Randle and the Knicks this season however, as they currently sit 12th in the Eastern Conference.
Last season Randle averaged career highs across the board. In points per game, 3-point percentage, rebounds and assists. Entering this year, a measure of decline from these numbers were somewhat expected. However, the collapse that has transpired has been hard to predict.
Randle’s points per game has capsized from 24 last year to 18.5. His field goal shooting has dropped from 45% to a career-low 41%. Furthermore, his 3.5 turnovers per game is the worst of his career. On top of that, his perimeter shooting has dropped a full 10 percent this year.
Possibly the best example of his decline, is according to the advanced stats he’s actually the least efficient high usage player in the NBA.
Over the past month his numbers continue to trend down. For instance, over his last three games he’s been a -66 on the court. Which is to say that opponents outscore the Knicks by 66 with his presence on the court in that span. In the past ten games he’s averaging just 14 points and an unsightly 25% from three-point range. Furthermore, last season he had just one game all year where he had a single-digit scoring night, he has seven this year. Including three in these past two weeks alone. This problem is clearly only getting worse.
The Knicks have a Julius Randle problem starting with thumbs-down gesture to fans
Arguably, Randle’s been the architect of his own possible downfall in New York. This started with his thumbs-down gesture to fans at MSG during their game against the Celtics at the start of January.
This raised a number of issues for himself and the Knicks. Instead of RJ Barrett‘s bank shot at the buzzer completing a stunning comeback being the topic; it was Randle’s gesturing at the fans which stole the headlines. His thumbs-down gesture was then followed up by an expletive-laden post-game directed at Knicks fans. Incurring a fine from the league for profanity.
What did Randle hope to achieve from this? All this did was attract more attention to himself, and for a player struggling with confidence, it didn’t make much sense to attract further negative attention.
Playing in the biggest media market in the world is not for everyone, New York fans are demanding. Even revered multiple World Champion athletes like Derek Jeter and Eli Manning have incurred their share of criticism during their brief struggles. It comes with the territory, and players need to have a thick skin. Its partly the rules of engagement; you will be treated like a King when things are going well, but you also have to face criticism if they don’t. It’s a no-win battle blaming the fans, the paying customers.
Despite the gesture, Randle could easily have recovered the situation, which makes this situation all the more perplexing. He generated enough goodwill last season that simply giving maximum effort and being accountable on and off the court likely would have made the gesture a thing of the past. However, he appears to have taken the opposite route with his body language and actions. Recently incurring a further NBA fine for shirking his media responsibilities.
Negative Body Language through January
His body language on the court and during timeouts is one of a disconsolate figure, often sitting away from the huddle.
Its clear by simply watching him on the court his mind appears elsewhere. There are numerous examples of him seemingly giving up on both ends of the court.
On defence he often allows his man to go past him for uncontested layups. Offensively he has no involvement if the ball isn’t in his hands. As a source of comparison, watching teams like the Golden State Warriors, all their players work as hard off the ball as they do on it. They are constantly moving the ball and setting screens. With the Knicks, and primarily Randle, he makes little to no effort off the ball. As a consequence the Knicks play a slow isolation-centric offense which is predictable. Randle himself tends to settle for low percentage shots instead of attacking the paint. Again, this feels effort or confidence based. He has the size advantage in many situations, but tends to settle or make poor decisions.
His fall from grace was highlighted in their recent blow-out loss to Miami this week when his attempted in-bounds pass ended up deep into the stands towards the concession area. This followed an air-ball at the buzzer in their loss to Cleveland.
It’s fair to say, the Knicks have a Julius Randle problem. Most recently in their blow-out loss Friday night in Milwaukee, Randle attracted negative attention on social media for appearing to walk away from Obi Toppin while he was on the ground after trying to keep a ball in play. This further raises issues as to his body language and focus.
Thibodeau’s decision to briefly bench Kemba Walker earlier this year caused more problems than it solved. According to Knicks insider Ian Begley of SNY, this decision ruffled feathers in the locker room. This is because it raised issues of accountability. Some players felt not everyone was being held to the same standard. It was a risk to bench the respected former All-Star, not least because the losses only continued to mount after the benching. His positivity and spark upon his return, including player of the week honors in December, indicates the problem wasn’t primarily Kemba.
In terms of optics, Thibodeau seems to have infinite patience for Randle’s performances. However, he has an extremely quick hook for Obi Toppin. Despite his outperforming Randle in his limited minutes this season. Further raising the issue of accountability in the locker room.
One consistent factor through these losses, is that the Knicks have a Julius Randle problem, and it was clear he is being held to a different standard. In fairness to Head Coach Thibodeau, he’s caught in a catch-22. Randle’s psyche is fragile, and Thibodeau knows if the team is to win he needs his best players to perform, clearly affording him patience. However, this shouldn’t be at the expense of locker room chemistry.
What is Randle’s future with the Knicks?
Despite Thibodeau’s patience and support with his struggling star, its fair to wonder if the front office have the same level of patience for what has transpired this year. According to Ian Begley of SNY, all Knick veterans are on the trade block for February’s trade deadline. This includes Julius Randle at the right price.
Randle is not eligible to be traded until February 3rd, which leaves the Knicks a week to work out a deal if they so choose. As to the level of return they may get is hard to know at this stage. New York will certainly be in the market for a Point Guard, and they have been credited with interest in the Sacramento Kings De’Aaron Fox, and the Maverick’s Jalen Brunson. It remains to be seen if Randle is included in any talks.
It seems more likely a deal for Randle may be explored in the summer. Thibodeau may attempt to fix Randle’s issues before deciding whether to move him in the offseason. However, if the declining effort continues it may get to the stage where for chemistry sake, they explore a trade as soon as possible.
Recently according to The Athletic, Randle re-iterated his desire to see his contract through with the Knicks. These next few weeks will be interesting as to what the Front Office decides.
Eventually a decision will need to be made either way. Leon Rose spent a top-10 pick on Obi Toppin, and he is getting limited minutes in Thibodeau’s rotation. He is currently used only as a backup to Randle which is a poor use of high resource. Either way a decision will need to be made as to who they move forward with.
What has caused this fall from grace, and how will it be solved?
I believe there are three factors contributing to the Knicks Julius Randle problem:
A prolonged hangover from his playoff struggles. Atlanta keyed in on him with double teams in the playoff series, and Randle was unable to play out of it. This has continued with every opponent this season, leading to increased turnovers and poorer numbers.
Secondly, the weight of expectation seems to be weighing him down. Derrick Rose long-term injury has affected the team in numerous ways. Not least as Rose is the leader and most important player on and off the court. Randle has struggled to step up in his absence and with the weight of expectation in returning the Knicks to the playoffs.
Thirdly, and this one is definitely on Randle; being engaged in fights with officials, fans and media. This attracted further attention on himself, and his effort and performances have fallen completely off as a result.
With his fragility, it is hard to see how he recovers from this. It starts with Randle himself getting his focus back. Thibodeau could assist with that by giving Randle a few games on the bench. This would answer the accountability issue in the locker room.
As it stands, a trade would likely benefit both parties. RJ Barrett’s emergence this season as the team’s best player also makes it easier to consider trading Randle.
Julius still has time to turn his performances around. If he doesn’t, he may find himself on another team by February 10th.
Embed from Getty Images