24-year-old big man Julius Randle signed a three-year deal worth north of $60 million as a free agent with the New York Knicks in the summer, turning into the unwitting jewel of the metropolitan franchise’s downer of a summer class of new players.
While Knicks fans were hoping for bigger and brighter names to match the Broadway marquees, Randle’s arrival in New York should definitely come with excitement.
The former lottery pick of the Los Angeles Lakers looked like an emerging star last season with the New Orleans Pelicans, and the Knicks have the flexibility to exercise (or not exercise) their team option in the third year of the contract.
Nevertheless, Randle still has plenty to prove to skeptics in his first season with the Knicks, who had the NBA-worst 17-65 record in 2018-19.
3. Turn into a load-carrying offensive star
Randle averaged 21.4 points and 3.1 assists per game with the Pelicans last season in 73 appearances, shooting 52.4% from the field, 34.4% from deep, and 73.1% from the free throw line. Those are really good numbers for the ex-Laker who has always had motor issues unfairly affixed to his name.
However, Randle can still develop into a true offensive star at power forward for the Knicks. Heading into the 2019-20 season, the University of Kentucky product is truly the only isolation and strong scorer for the ‘Bockers club. The other players the Knicks signed in the offseason—Taj Gibson, Bobby Portis, Wayne Ellington, Elfrid Payton, Marcus Morris, and Reggie Bullock—have all come down with an extreme case of role player-itis.
Additionally, the Knicks possessed the third overall pick in the 2019 draft and selected Duke swingman R.J. Barrett. Outside of Dennis Smith Jr., the best point guard on the team’s roster, New York does not have a go-to playmaking threat. This is where Randle steps in.
Randle could be a beast at the power forward position for the Knicks; a southpaw who will post up or face the basket and make magic happen either for himself or his teammates. Head coach David Fizdale’s squad is a rather young squad outside of Gibson and Ellington—everyone else is under 30—and while his teammates learn the fundamentals of the NBA game, Randle’s mission will be the destroy opposing defenses.
You want to see Randle take a higher volume of threes, assuming he can make them at the O.K. clip of 34% for this position last year with New Orleans, but besides that quibble, Julius has tall expectations ahead of him of being “The Guy” on the offensive end.
2. Don’t be a turnstile on defense
On the other end of the floor, however, Randle has never gained a moniker for high-end defensive effort. Maybe that comes from playing for the mediocre Lakers teams that outwardly did not value defense.
Nonetheless, Randle will make up the frontcourt likely with second-team All-Rookie center Mitchell Robinson, who continued to inspire awe during the NBA’s Summer League in Las Vegas, Nevada, last month. Robinson oozes with potential, especially on defense where he swats nearly every shot in sight, including three-point attempts.
So, where does that leave Randle? Well, it helps to have Robinson anchoring the paint for the Knicks and make up for mistakes from teammates, but that does not mean Randle can rest on that end. Instead, Randle is going to have to develop into a leader of sorts on defense, too. Randle could very well be one of the elder starters should New York also start rookie Barrett, 21-year-olds Smith Jr. and Robinson. Randle recorded a 111.4 Defensive Rating last season, a poor reflection of the player he needs to be.
With a young team, it is sometimes difficult to maintain accountability. Between Fizdale, and the veterans Gibson and Ellington, mistakes on defense are going to have to be recognized, and that starts with the lapsing Randle, who definitely can perform better.
1. Demonstrate versatility
Even at power forward, Randle is slightly undersized, being 6-foot-9. However, he makes up the height difference with a chiseled, 250-pound physique and uncompromisingly strong style of play.
Randle spent 26% of his minutes last season with Alvin Gentry’s Pelicans playing the center position. The idea that Randle can be a 5 in certain stretches would be helpful for New York, who now features multiple big men fighting for playing time.
Perhaps it has been talked into the ground in the summer, and unjustly so, but the Knicks do indeed need to find minutes for reputable players like Gibson, Portis, and Randle, along with young players in Robinson and Randle in the frontcourt.
Randle playing center for a few minutes per game would help Fizdale in going small—the addition of a Barrett at the wing and Morris playing comfortably at 4 could space New York in a five-out scenario.
This is not the most pressing of demands, but Randle could take advantage of mismatches at center for a few minutes per game and the Knicks could push the pace—with Randle in the past showing how well he runs the floor.