NY Knicks: Can Julius Randle be the top player on a winning team?

“I like Julius Randle, but I don’t think he can be the number one guy on a Knicks championship team.”

Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before.

From the moment Randle really took off last season, this question has been bandied about by both Knicks fans and media covering the team.

The answer is mostly agreed upon: No, he can’t.

People point to the 1st Round Playoff series last year against the Hawks and have decided upon that five-game span writing the book on Julius Randle.

A good but flawed player who cannot be the top guy on a basketball squad that wins at the highest level.

Can Julius Randle be the #1 guy for the Knicks?

Here’s the thing, though, I’m not sure the data actually agrees with that answer.

In fact, by the end of this, I’ll argue that there is a clear blueprint for winning a lot with Julius Randle as your top player.

(All data for this article came from NBA.com and goes through November 27th’s rematch against the Hawks.)

Let me begin by saying that as number one options go, Julius Randle has a pretty low usage rate. Last year, Randle was 30th in the league with an average usage rate of 28.5%. That number has dipped even further this year to 27.0% and 35th in the league. 

The conversation has to begin there. Julius Randle has all the pressure of a number one option, but he dominates the ball less than almost any other top player in the league.

I know your eye test tells you something different, but that’s why we track this data.

Randle’s usage rate matters when it comes to winning.

Since the beginning of last season, the Knicks are 21-22 when Julius Randle has a usage rate between 25% and 29.99%. His average the last two years falls right in that range.

Across that same time frame, the Knicks are 20-15 when Randle has a usage rate of at least 30%. That’s a 57% winning percentage or approximately 47 wins over an 82-game season.

That’s ho-hum. It would be good for 7th in the Eastern Conference right now, which is exactly where the Knicks are.

If I stopped here, it would seem to prove the idea that Julius Randle cannot be a number one option on a championship team.

Luckily, I ain’t stopping here. Let’s get crazy.

What if Tom Thibodeau woke up tomorrow and decided that he wanted Julius Randle to be a legit ball-dominant superstar and drew up a game plan that gave Randle a usage rate of at least 33%.

Surely Thibs would be writing his own resignation letter with such lunacy.

Nope.

The Knicks are 14-5 in such games. Extrapolate that winning percentage and you get a sixty-win team.

Every Knick fan would take sixty wins in a heartbeat. However, a sixty-win season does not guarantee a championship.

There cannot be another level to this, can there?

I think you know the answer to that.

Randle needs the ball in his hands to be a top player, but he also needs to set up his teammates. Point forward Randle is the best Randle.

In games where he has a usage rate of at least 31% and his potential assists are two times or less than that of his actual assist total (i.e. eight potential assists and four actual assists), the Knicks are 16-3. That would be good for 69 wins across the course of an entire NBA season.

Only four teams in NBA history have won 69 games in a season. All but one of them won an NBA championship.

Julius Randle can be a number one option on a very good team if the roster is constructed to follow this blueprint: Put the ball in his hands slightly more than he has it now, and put a bunch of players who can finish shots around him.