New York Knicks: Is Julius Randle really transformed?

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Dec 13, 2020; Detroit, Michigan, USA; New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) gets defended by Detroit Pistons guard Killian Hayes (7) during the first quarter at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Who is this Julius Randle playing for the New York Knicks?


A lot can change in a year: Exhibit A) the New York Knicks look like a competent, competitive basketball team, which is nothing short of miraculous compared to last season; Exhibit B) Knicks’ fans, almost universally, have fallen in love with Julius Randle.

This actually didn’t take a year. It took 8 games. The year saw many fans who now shower him with praise and adoration offer nothing but criticism, insults, and potential trades with the Beijing Ducks.

Exhibit C) Randle himself is a new man. That belongs on this list, right? Because it’s the only explanation for the Knicks’ strong play and the fans’ 180. This is a new and unrecognizably improved Julius Randle, worlds apart from the player he was last year. Right? Let’s investigate.

PASSING (per NBA.com Tracking stats)

2019-20

  • Passes Made per game – 46.1
  • Passes Received per game – 42.8
  • MATH ALERT- 1.077 passes made for every one received.

2020-21

  • Passes Made per game – 67
  • Passes Received per game – 61.9
  • MATH ALERT – 1.082 passes made for every one received.

One of Randle’s perceived transformations is from selfish ball-hog to unselfish playmaker, but stats suggest he’s only passing more because he’s receiving more. Passes per touch? About the same. In fact, if he’d made just 13 more total passes last season, his “ball-hog” pass-to-touch ratio and his “unselfish”pass-to-touch ratio would be identical.

2019-20 

  • FGA off Randle Passes (per game) -12.2 (5.2 3PA)
  • Total FGA per pass – 0.26
  • FG% off Randle passes – 36.3% (34.3% from 3)

2020-21 

  • FGA off Randle Passes (per game) -21.3 (9.6 3PA)
  • Total FGA per pass – 0.32
  • FG% off Randle passes – 46.5% (40.3% from 3)

Randle’s passes are leading to FGA at pretty much the same rate. There are, however, two important differences: 1) a higher percentage of FGA off Randle passes are threes now, and 2) teammates are hitting at a higher clip. Is this the better decision-making I keep hearing about? Or is it the result of scheme/spacing? Teammates cutting/moving more? Are they just shooting better?

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