NY Knicks: Should Julius Randle Play Center?

New York Knicks, Julius Randle, (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
New York Knicks, Julius Randle, (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /

The NY Knicks miss Mitchell Robinson. While Nerlnes Noel and Taj Gibson have done a great job as replacements, Robinson’s offensive consistency and rebounding (particularly offensive rebounding) have not been replicated. Noel is averaging 4.8 PPG with 6.1 RPG while Gibson sits at 4.8 PPG and 5.0 RPG.  In his injury-shortened season, first, to a hand fracture and then to a foot fracture, Robinson was putting up 8.3 PPG and 8.1 RPG. Mitchell Robinson is out for the season, and New York has fallen to the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.

Coach Tom Thibodeau’s successes are not without their complaints, one of which being his lack of lineup flexibility and creativity. Only two Knicks lineups have logged over 100 minutes on the floor together this season: Payton / Barrett / Bullock / Randle / Robinson and Payton / Barrett / Bullock / Randle / Noel. While Knicks Twitter continues to yearn for Derrick Rose or Immanuel Quickly to start at Point Guard, another source of untapped potential is trying Julius Randle at center.

While Randle has only played 19% of his minutes at center this season, the position is far from foreign to him.  In his 2017-18 season with the Lakers, Randle spent 45% of his time at center.  In his 2018-19 season with the Pelicans, that number was a whopping 70%. As Michelle Beadle, Jalen Rose, and David Fizdale (ha) said in 2018 on NBA countdown, Randle at center is “scary.”  If Julius was scary then, he’s horrifying now.

While Thibs has not wavered in his lineup consistency, he might not have a choice.  The Knicks now average 104.9 points per game, third-worst in the league.  They’ve lost 5 out of their last 6 and need a spark.  Is Randle playing center the cure-all for the Knicks woes? No.  But it can’t hurt to try.

NY Knicks: There are numbers to support Julius Randle at center

Albeit a small sample size, the Knicks have done well with Randle at the five. Per Cleaning The Glass, the team’s efficiency differential is +6.0 with Randle at center. At power forward, it is +0.6.   Going small also gives their offense a boost, as they average 112.2 points per 100 possessions, compared to 109.3. Guarding Randle would be a nightmare for opposing defenses, as he is quicker than every center in the league, forcing teams to either suffer with their big man or to go small.

While the biggest concern would be compromising defensively, Julius Randle has held his own.  The Knicks actually allow fewer points per 100 possessions with Randle at Center. 106.2 versus 108.6.

Randle at the five would also help with the Knicks spacing woes. Per B-Ball index, they have the third-worst spacing among lineups in the top 60 minutes played.

Randle sliding over would allow the NY Knicks to have another shooter on the floor, whether it’d be Alec Burks, Quickly, or even Kevin Knox. Teams have been sagging off of Payton from the three-point range, where he is shooting 26%. Even if Payton is on the floor with a smaller lineup, it’d be easier for the Knicks to create room for him to score in the paint, where he is shooting 51.2%.  Payton has a quick first step, and he’d be in a much better position to succeed if he had more room to drive to the basket as opposed to settling for threes – even if they’re uncontested.

It would be fascinating to see different combinations of lineups, particularly with RJ Barrett at Power Forward. Barrett has only logged 2% of his time at the four, but I feel I am required to mention that the Knicks are +22.8 in those minutes. I’d sure love to have a bigger sample size to see if the sophomore and his 6’10 wingspan can hold his own against larger opponents. I don’t know how exactly a Rose / Quickly / Bullock / Barrett / Randle lineup would fare, but I do know it’d be damn fun to watch.

Randle is shooting only 38.5% from the field in the month of April, perhaps a change of pace would get him back to his All-Star play. The NY Knicks don’t need to drive him into the ground like he’s PJ Tucker, but for a team who consistently comes up just short, they need to find out where a few extra points will come from.

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