New York Knicks: Assessing Julius Randle’s early struggles

Why has Julius Randle struggled so much with the New York Knicks so far?

The New York Knicks’ biggest signing last summer was Julius Randle, who received $62.3 million over three years, including a partial guarantee for the third season. As the team’s highest-paid player, there were high expectations immediately.

Early on, though, Randle has struggled a lot and that has led to the Knicks’ record of 4-11.

In 2018-19, the 24-year-old power forward had a career year of 21.4 points. 8.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists, a 52.2 percent shooting clip from the field and 34.4 percent from the three-point line. The points, rebounds and three-point percentages were career-highs.

Randle looked like he finally took the next step. The three-point shot and playmaking took him from a starter on a bad team to a potential piece of a contender. Along with his young age, the sky was the limit, with the expectation to continue improving.

So why has he struggled so far?

Through 15 games, Randle has 16.5 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists and is shooting 44.3 percent from the field and 25.9 percent from the three-point line. That’s all with averaging three more minutes a game from last year. The shooting percentage, of course, has dipped significantly, as he takes more three-pointers than ever despite a smaller number of overall shots per game.

Digging deeper, according to Basketball-Reference, Randle last year scored 53.9 percent of his points of off assists, compared to this year of only 38.2 percent. The obvious reason is the Knicks’ lack of playmakers. Randle has played with the likes of Jrue Holiday the last few, years plus talented stars like Anthony Davis.  The change in role has taken its toll on his numbers.

Recently, on the early season struggles, Randle said to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

“No, the money is in the bank. So it’s not pressure for that,” Randle said. “Me and (head coach David Fizdale) joke about it all the time — the money is the bank, just go out and have fun. But more so than the money, I have more responsibility.”

As Randle explained, he’s essentially the No. 1 offensive option for the Knicks, a role he didn’t have on his previous teams. As he continues to adjust to that new role, Randle is leaning on agent Aaron Mintz to help keep him focused and on the right track, as he told Bondy.

“I talk to (Mintz) every day. He talks me off a ledge every day. It’s like, I joke with him, it’s like my sane side — him and my wife,” Randle said. “Because I’m ready to blow up and they kind of talk me back to reality. He gives me a day just to chill out and then he talks me back to reality.”

The start of the season has shown two things about Randle: teams are focusing more on him and he has struggled without a playmaking point guard.

According to NBA.com, Randle is in the 12th percentile of ISO plays at 15.8. He is just scoring 0.59 points per possession, which puts him in the bottom 11. In comparison, the average player on that list is averaging 0.90 points per possession.

All the numbers across the board are poor for Randle when he is in ISO mode. That either has to improve, which it could since only 14 games have been played.

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Randle struggles to the start of the year can be the effect of coach David Fizdale’s offense, which is heavy isolation basketball, and the lack of playmakers. Moving forward, the New York Knicks need to do a better job of putting Randle more in pick and rolls, less isolation set-ups and more with hime moving from either block. Getting Payton back could also help get Randle more chances to score without having to dribble, making him the player who succeeded just a few months prior.