New York Knicks: Julius Randle poised for his biggest NBA role yet

(Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
(Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Julius Randle has the chance to settle in as the New York Knicks’ leading scorer.

No superstars, no problem? Maybe not, but the New York Knicks have a full 15-man roster for 2019-20, with a miserable 17-65 record in the rearview mirror. New players arrived with the available payroll money, each of whom filled a role with their respective teams, but were never poised to take a lead role.

That included Julius Randle; but that can — and, perhaps, will — change with the upcoming season.

Randle signed a two-year, $17.71 million contract, with a player option for the second season, in 2018 with the New Orleans Pelicans. He joined to take a supplementary role alongside Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday to play off the team’s promising playoff run.

This lasted for about half the season until the Pelicans slipped, and Davis requested a trade, which awkwardly took him on and off the court, eventually becoming invisible down the stretch.

So, for the season’s final two months, it took Randle on an upward track. He went from averaging 19.9 points on 13.4 shots per game to 24.2 points on 17.6 shots per game, shooting 49.8 percent and 36.4 percent on three-pointers after Feb. 6.

The numbers were there to be a leading scorer, and the Knicks paid him like one, with an $18 million base salary for 2019-20.

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Like the Pelicans, the Knicks are wide open for Randle to feast on opportunities. There are veterans around him, but they all fill a role. The young players have something to prove, also leaving them as role players in the interim. No one has had the open path in the NBA like the Kentucky product.

A lead role is out of place for Randle, especially in the superstar-driven NBA, but his numbers have improved by the season:

  • 2015-16: 11.3 points, 42.9 percent shooting
  • 2016-17: 13.2 points, 48.8 percent shooting
  • 2017-18: 16.1 points, 55.8 percent shooting
  • 2018-19: 21.4 points, 52.4 percent shooting

The biggest surge came via three-point shooting. Randle had just 144 three-point attempts from 2015-18 at 25.7 percent. Last season, he had 194 attempts at 34.4 percent; that improvement happened overnight and expanded his game beyond the prototypical power-forward play he entered the NBA with, of using his body inside the paint and stepping out for the occasional jump shot.

The all-around offensive game is on the rise. At age 24, it might not be done, and the Knicks have at least the next two seasons to see what they have to work with. The best-case scenario, though, is to have youth like Kevin Knox and RJ Barrett live up to their scoring potential and become top options, taking the unnecessary pressure off Randle to be the guy.

That is not an overnight fix, either. Knox’s rookie season teased a long development path. Barrett’s summer league did the same, despite him having yet to play an NBA regular season game.

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Otherwise, this is a team of secondary options, and the New York Knicks have Randle to rely on as the closest thing to the leader. It is above his paygrade, but the current roster necessitates his potential All-Star-esque role until something changes — not until someone develops or a superstar makes their way to Manhattan.