New York Knicks: Julius Randle would be better in a diminished role

New York Knicks power forward Julius Randle produces strong numbers, but his impact would be greater with a diminished role.

New York Knicks forward Julius Randle has been a large part of the team’s offense this season. After signing with the Knicks last summer on a three-year, $62 million contract, there was hope that Randle could be a focal point of a young offense.

So far, it hasn’t panned out.

On the surface, his numbers don’t look bad. Randle is averaging 19.5 points and 9.7 rebounds on the season. A deeper dive into his numbers, however, shows someone who is not only a defensive liability but a thorn in the Knicks’ offense.

Comparing Knicks Randle to Pelicans Randle

The Knicks saw an emerging player in Julius Randle. He not only posted over 21 points per game on 52 percent shooting with the New Orleans Pelicans last season, but shot the 3 at over 34 percent.

Once again: On the surface, it looked good.

I lined up Randle’s 2018-19 season with his 2019-20 season. I scoured his advanced stats, efficiency ratings, shot charts, connection with teammates, looking for SOMETHING to tell me that the Knicks are the problem and not Randle himself.

What I found was Randle’s metrics are almost identical to what they were with the Pelicans in 2018-19.

Randle is often criticized for overdribbling. With the Pelicans in 2019, Randle took three or more dribbles on 30.8 percent of his shots. With the Knicks in 2020, that number was 31.9 percent.

Randle held the ball for six or more seconds before taking a shot 12.1 percent of the time in 2019. With the Knicks in 2020, that number is 13.1 percent.

Maybe the Knicks’ lack of playmakers was the factor that caused his ball-stopping and overdribbling. Maybe Randle needs a strong passing point guard, as he had in Jrue Holiday in New Orleans, which would allow him to find open looks and shoot the ball at a solid percentage.

That also isn’t the case.

Randle has actually seen a slight increase in open looks this season. Randle’s three-point shooting percentage on “wide open” shots, where there is no defender, was 31.4 percent with the Pelicans in 2019 and 32.5 percent with the Knicks in 2020.

Randle was taking just as long to shoot, dribbling just as much, and shooting slightly worse on open 3s last season. Not only that, but Randle also has an almost identical 27.1 percent usage rate as he did last season at 27.3 percent.

What exactly did the Knicks get in Julius Randle?

He’s Not a Modern Big Man

I think what Knicks fans were expecting with Julius Randle was a multifaceted threat on offense. A power forward who could not only bang down low and rebound, but also stretch the floor, keep the ball moving, and shoot the 3.

It’s been a rude awakening.

We’ve heard a few times throughout the season from Knicks coaches how they want to “unlock” Julius Randle. What if there’s nothing to unlock?

I mentioned Randle’s high usage rate of 27.1 percent. How does that stack up against other frontcourt players in the Association?

The frontcourt players with the highest usage rates in the NBA are Joel Embiid, Anthony Davis, Zion Williamson, Pascal Siakam, Karl Anthony-Towns, and Julius Randle. One of these names is not like the other.

All of these other players have multiple layers to their game. They shoot off the dribble, set hard screens, can pop out and shoot the 3, and battle other bigs down low. Randle can maybe do the battling down low, but that’s about it.

What To Do Going Forward

I think the Knicks knew that Randle was not a good defender when they signed him last offseason. Not being a two-way player isn’t a death sentence in today’s NBA. However, after cycling through all of the ways in which Randle hurts the offense, what is there left to like?

I used FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR model, which is an ever-evolving tool that tries to project a player’s career performance, market value, and impact on the game going forward. Their projections were not kind to Randle, and he fell into a category of a player they refer to as “scrub”.

Randle’s WAR rating (Wins Above Replacement) per 82 games was higher on his last season with the Lakers than it was with either the Pelicans or the Knicks. It seems like the way you “unlock” Randle is by defining his role.

After sorting through the numbers and the impact he brings to a game, I started to akin Randle to former Knick Enes Kanter. Someone who provides nothing on defense, but can bang down low and rebound. Sure, Randle shoots jump shots…and makes them…sometimes…every so often.

What this all boils down to is that the Knicks have been giving a player with the same skillset and impact on a game as Kanter the keys to the offense. Not a recipe for success.

A league scout told the New York Post a few weeks ago:

“He absolutely should not be your No. 1 or even No. 2 option, maybe not even No. 3 on a serious contender. He doesn’t have a good enough feel, [and is] much too ball-dominant. I don’t trust his decisions with the ball. As sixth man, he would fit perfectly because I don’t think he gives you much defensively either. That’s more in line with a sixth-man role.”

Randle’s game is not meant to be a prominent role in a modern offense.

With the Knicks’ current roster, there aren’t many players you can trust in prominent roles. Navigating a way to make their current highest-paid player in Randle a 3rd or 4th option will be tricky.

Hopefully this offseason the. New York Knicks are able to acquire players through the draft, free agency, and potentially in trades that will allow them to comfortably reduce Randle’s role and maximize his skill set.

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