The New York Knicks’ 2023-24 season took an abrupt turn on Thursday morning, when it was formally announced that All-Star forward Julius Randle would undergo season-ending surgery on his dislocated shoulder. Now a Knicks team that had aspirations of competing for a championship this season — as recently as late January — must figure out how to replace Randle’s significant production.

Before we get into exactly how the Knicks might go about replacing the former Kentucky Wildcat, let’s first identify exactly what they’re hoping to replace.

Randle is an absolute nightmare for opponents. Sure, he’s had some issues pertaining to effort in his five seasons with the Knicks, but it’s hard to argue with his output. He is a versatile power forward who was averaging 24.0 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 5.0 assists per game this season.

He demonstrated considerable self awareness in limiting his three-point attempts, as he was connecting on only 31.1% of them. And even his three-pointers took a turn for the better in January (36.9%) — after the arrival of OG Anunoby.

Without taking too much time to eulogize Randle’s season, the six-foot-eight-inch forward was probably in an ideal role alongside Jalen Brunson and OG Anunoby.

Coach Tom Thibodeau addressed Julius Randle’s injury

Knicks’ coach Tom Thibodeau spoke on the team’s mindset in moving forward without Randle in Thrusday’s pre-game press conference.

“We knew it (Randle’s surgery) was a possibility all along,” Thibodeau said. “He did all that he could to try to get back. And he never got to a point where he felt comfortable with it. So, it’s a tough break for him, but our reality is what our reality is,”

And that reality is the 2024 playoffs without their All-Star forward. So, how can the Knicks’ make up all of that lost production? Before we get into actual solutions, let’s get a few things out of the way.

First of all, Anunoby factored into the Knicks’ plans in terms of the playoffs and how to move forward with or without Randle. It just so happens that it will be without. Anunoby is dealing with his own injury (elbow), but Thibodeau alluded to some reason for optimism.

“OG (Anunoby) is doing well,” Thibodeau said on Thursday moments before confirming he is taking contact and playing in four-on-fours and five-on-fives in practice — all of which are good signs for an Anunoby return sooner than later.

Next, Thibodeau made the point that it is nearly impossible to replace Randle with a single player.

“We are not replacing Julius individually. We are doing it collectively,” Thibodeau stated.

In other words, if the Knicks are to successfully replace Randle, it will be a true team effort.

In addition to Anunoby, it also goes without saying that Brunson will be asked to do even more now given Randle’s surgery.

But Brunson and Anunoby were assumed to be part of the equation all along. If the Knicks are going to advance beyond the second-round of the playoffs — something they haven’t done in 24 years — they’ll need more from their role players. Who, in particular, might step up to help fill the void?

Randle replacements

New York Knicks forward Bojan Bogdanovic (44) drives to the basket past Miami Heat forward Nikola Jovic (5) and forward Caleb Martin (16) during the first quarter at Kaseya Center.
Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Bojan Bogdanovic is the first and most obvious choice for one important reason, we know he’s capable of far more than he’s demonstrated thus far.

Bogdanovic has averaged no less than 18.0 points per game in any season since 2018-19. He’s struggled to acclimate to New York, presumable due to a lack of playing time and opportunity. This season alone, he’s averaging 20.1 points per game as a starter and only 10.9 as a reserve. So, there’s an argument to be made that he could be more impactful in a different role.

But it’s not simply a volume thing. His efficiency and accuracy increase along with playing time. For example, the 10-year NBA veteran is making 42.1% of his three-point attempts as a starter — and only 34.2% as a reserve. His field goal percentage and true shooting percentage follow a similar pattern. So, Randle’s surgery could be a blessing in disguise — at least for Bogdanovic.

Now, Bogdanovic is far from a defensive wiz. But the Knicks are an incredibly capable defensive unit, especially with Anunoby. If Anunoby is back, starting Bogdanovic alongside Anunoby, Brunson, Isaiah Hartenstein, and Miles McBride could provide an additional scoring punch.

Continuing to use him as a spark plug off the bench could work, too, so long as he’s given a long enough leash to feel comfortable — and a sufficient amount of playing time. While his starter vs. reserve numbers seem indisputable, his performance more closely correlates to playing time.

For example, he’s averaging 26.5 points per game when he plays 40 or more minutes. He’s averaging 20.2 points per game when he plays between 30 and 39 minutes. And so on. 

But like coach Thibodeau said, the Knicks will only successfully replace Randle via a team effort. In other words, they need their role players to keep playing as well as they have of late.

In particular, that means they’ll need Josh Hart, Precious Achiuwa, and McBride to keep playing like borderline All-Stars. If anyone’s production tappers off, it will hurt the broader team effort. 

It’s important to note that Randle performed poorly in last year’s playoffs — and his performance had a lot to do with playing through an ankle injury that ultimately required surgery.

So, while having Randle available sounds better than not having Randle available, the idea of watching him struggle through another injury-riddled post-season is less than ideal. Ultimately, the Knicks will probably not achieve the best version of themselves without a healthy Randle, but that does not mean they can’t collectively fill the Randle-sized void in their lineup — and possibly make their deepest post-season run in quite some time.