Do Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle Merit All-Star Spots?

New York Knicks star Julius Randle

Despite being a somewhat inconsistent team, the New York Knicks are fighting for a playoff spot in large part thanks to their dynamic duo Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle. They further helped their All-Star credentials last Thursday, overcoming the NBA’s top team, the Boston Celtics, 120-117 in overtime. Brunson and Randle combined for 66 of those 120 points, helping the Knicks’ playoff pursuit and strengthening why Brunson and Randle merit All-Star spots.

Do Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle Merit All-Star Spots?

Watching this team, it’s quite clear quite how much of a scoring load Brunson and Randle carry to keep them in games. Particularly in last week’s back-and-forth battle against Boston. It was also evident in their subsequent defeat against the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets held Randle to 19 points, proving that the Knicks cannot compete against the top teams in the East without both thriving. This will need to be strengthened at the trade deadline. In the meantime, the two of them continue to play at a very high level. I’ll present why I believe Brunson and Randle merit All-Star spots, as well as analyze the other candidates and give picks for the Eastern Conference Reserves.

The All-Star Case for Jalen Brunson

What a season it’s been for Brunson. Signed in the offseason from the Dallas Mavericks on a four-year $104 million contract to answer the Knicks’ decades-long point guard search, he’s been everything the Knicks could have hoped for and more. Leon Rose has had a patchy career to date as the Knicks President, but he aced this move. The 26-year-old is blossoming into an All-Star candidate.

Last season, Brunson averaged 16 points per game and four assists for Dallas. This season, he’s taken a jump, averaging career highs with 22.8 points and six assists per game. Beyond the numbers, Brunson organizes the offense, possessing an elite ability to score in the paint despite being an undersized guard. He’s not the most athletic but overcomes this by being blessed with silky-smooth handles and impressive strength for his size. He ducks and weaves in the paint as well as anybody in the game, creating space for his patented mid-range with perfect footwork. Furthermore, he’s been a clutch player most of the season, hitting huge shots down the stretch in games.

Brunson was honored recently by winning Eastern Conference player of the week for week 13. He did this by averaging 34.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, and five assists per game, including a career-high 44 points against the title-contending Milwaukee Bucks. Brunson stands a great chance of becoming an All-Star. He’s developed respect around the league due to being a good, hard-working, and very durable teammate. Tom Thibodeau asks him to play a ton of minutes, yet he’s been undaunted by the responsibility. He’s actually in the discussion as one of the Knicks’ best free-agent signings ever at this early stage.

The All-Star Case for Julius Randle

Julius Randle’s career as a Knick feels like a rollercoaster ride. It started off slowly, then took off at top speed in 2020. He won Most Improved Player, making the All-NBA team and garnering some MVP votes as the Knicks made the fourth seed. However, the Randle-coaster dipped spectacularly last season. Caught swearing at fans, he appeared disconnected from the team in general, culminating in the Knicks becoming a lottery team. This led to fans flooding the airwaves, demanding a trade. This season, however, the Julius Randle ride is back in full force and headed to the top.

In the offseason, Randle made several key changes. He took up yoga to improve his mentality and came into camp leaner, improving his agility. Case in point, he posterized Jayson Tatum with a ferocious dunk Thursday night. He’s a force in the paint, combining elite strength and adept touches around the rim.

Averaging over 24 points per game and a career-high 10.8 rebounds, Randle is becoming more efficient this season. He’s had huge nights recently with 36 points and 13 rebounds against the Cleveland Cavaliers, then 37 points against the Celtics. Randle hit 13 three-point shots in those two games combined. He’s been on fire through January, dropping 42 and 15 against the Pistons, re-energizing the Knicks’ playoff chances in the process.

This upward curve feels sustainable now that he has a point guard to organize better spacing on the court. This helps Randle find better spots to attack in the paint. He had a tendency to over-dribble last year in isolation and take poor shots. Now, his decision-making is much faster, and he’s more efficient. He looks difficult to stop on a nightly basis.

Steep Competition for Eastern Conference Reserve Spots

At guard, Jaylen Brown’s a lock, averaging nearly 27 points per game for Boston. Next up, James Harden of the surging Philadelphia Sixers will surely make it. Harden is leading the NBA in assists with 11 per game, thanks to his pick-and-roll partnership with Joel Embiid. Tyrese Haliburton is another lock. Averaging 20 points and 10 assists for the Indiana Pacers as one of the most efficient players in the league.

Brunson’s competition is likely Trae Young, who is having another terrific season. Statistically, Young’s averaging a superior 27 points and nine assists. However, for me, Brunson edges him. The Knicks are having a better year than the underachieving Hawks, for one. Plus, Young’s 41% from the field and 31% from three-point range are inefficient, compared to Brunson’s 47% from the field and 40% from three.

Moving to the Front Court, Joel Embiid is having another MVP season. After his 47-point night against Nikola Jokic this weekend, he can feel aggrieved that he wasn’t voted in as a starter. The Sixers are the hottest team in the league, largely due to Embiid’s 33 points per game and ten rebounds. The next forward spot likely goes to Bam Adebayo. He’s the Heat’s defensive anchor and orchestrates their offense.

Julius Randle could seal the final forward bench spot. However,  Pascal Siakam is hot on his trail, averaging 25 points and eight rebounds for the 23-28 Raptors. Siakam has been in a rich vein of form, terrorizing the Knicks in their last two matchups together, which may sway voters.

Another candidate is DeMar DeRozan of the Bulls. His 26 points per game, 51% from the field, and five assists are elite. Meriting him consideration despite the Bulls’ 23-26 season. It’s close, but I have DeRozan slightly ahead of Siakam. Not just in terms of scoring, but his advanced stats are superior in most categories.

Picks for Eastern Conference Reserves

Frontcourt: Joel Embiid, Bam Adebayo, Julius Randle

Backcourt: Jaylen Brown, James Harden

Wildcard: Tyrese Haliburton, Jalen Brunson, DeMar DeRozan

The Case for Why Brunson and Randle Merit All-Star Spots

There are many deserving candidates this year, including Jimmy Butler, who is also having an all-around good season. He’s missed slightly too many games through injury to be included, in my opinion. Whichever way it goes, a deserving candidate will inevitably miss out. For instance, many prognosticators have Paskal Siakam making the final cut, and a solid case can be made for his inclusion also.

As for the case for why both Brunson and Randle merit All-Stat spots, I feel they have carried a massive load on a nightly basis to keep the Knicks above .500. Not to mention they were a lottery team last year, and the duo has galvanized the team to relevancy in the difficult Eastern Conference. Whilst their ceiling is limited as a team, it still doesn’t take away from the work they are doing on a nightly basis. And for that reason, I feel they both merit All-Star spots.