New York Knicks’ Julius Randle Making The Most Of His Playmaking Opportunities

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Oftentimes in life, success comes when people make the most of an opportunity when afforded a larger role in the workplace.

That’s the extremely simplified, uncomplicated, metaphorical version of how Julius Randle is putting up All-Star caliber numbers as we approach the one-quarter mark of a surprisingly respectable New York Knicks season, according to Portland Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts.

Going into Sunday’s game at Moda Center, the 26-year-old big man is averaging 22.6 points, 11.6 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game on 47.9% shooting from the field and a 33.8% mark from three that still needs some polishing. The three counting stats are all career bests for the 6-foot-8 Randle, now more than thriving in his 6th full season in the league.

“I don’t know how much he’s changed,” Stotts said before Sunday’s contest, Portland’s first since Monday after a two-game home series with Memphis was postponed due to health and safety protocol concerns with the Grizzlies. “The ball is in his hands more.”

Tom Thibodeau’s Knicks play through Randle a lot, Stotts said, yet the University of Kentucky product’s 27.2% usage rate is 36th highest in the NBA, a tick under his 27.6 mark last season under David Fizdale and Mike Miller with New York and below his 27.8 rate in his one-year stint with Alvin Gentry’s New Orleans Pelicans. Yet Randle’s 29.3% assist rate dwarfs his previous career-high of 19.3% set with the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2016-2017 season and ranks 25th in the league, a shade under Kyrie Irving’s 29.5.

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“Randle has really come into his own as a scorer, playmaker, rebounder,” Stotts said. “It just looks like he’s really adapted into the role as being the primary focus of their offense.”

After being selected by the Lakers with the 7th overall pick of the 2014 NBA Draft, Randle suffered a season-ending leg injury in the first regular season game of his career. He played a grand total of 14 minutes.

He was mainly a starter his next two seasons with Los Angeles, averaging a double-double in 2015-2016 on a weird and really bad team alongside the late Kobe Bryant in his final season, with Jordan Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell, Roy Hibbert and Lou Williams also playing key roles. After Kobe’s retirement, Randle averaged 13.2 points, 8.6 boards and 3.6 dimes per game as L.A. once again struggled.

At just 23, Randle started fewer games in 2017-2018 as the Lakers embraced a younger core led by Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma. L.A. let Randle leave as they signed LeBron James and he signed a one-year, $8.6 million contract with New Orleans to try and build his value. And it worked. He averaged 21.4 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game, earning a three-year, $60 million deal with the Knicks with a non-guaranteed third year.

Randle nearly averaged 20 and 10 with New York last year, but he didn’t really help 3rd overall pick RJ Barrett develop as a rookie and generally hindered spacing while playing poor defense as the Knicks struggled.

“His early years as a young player with the Lakers, New Orleans experience was different for him,” Stotts said. “But certainly his versatility as a mobile big man who can play inside and outside, I think everybody saw that early in his career.”

Randle has mentioned trying to improve each year of his career, but he’s drastically better at being at the right place on the court, running the floor with determination while opening up spacing and driving lanes for his teammates with timely, purposeful passes. Without his leap to All-Star level this year, the Knicks wouldn’t be anywhere near their hopeful 8-9 start.

“I’ve always thought he was a very skilled player for his size. He can handle, he can get to the basket, he can drive either way,” Stotts said. “I think a lot of times with players, just finding and getting an opportunity matters.”

It’s certainly mattered this season for Randle, who’s been a surprising revelation as one of the league’s most improved players of the pandemic season.

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