Knicks must stagger RJ Barrett and Julius Randle’s minutes

RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, New York Knicks. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, New York Knicks. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports /

The New York Knicks have continued their downward spiral as of late, having lost 17 of their last 21 games. The focus has shifted from the playoffs to the draft lottery as the disappointing season gradually winds to an end.

But with 18 games remaining, now would be a good time for head coach Tom Thibodeau to experiment with the rotation and find potential roles for players that could benefit them and the team next year.

Knicks’ Julius Randle and RJ Barrett should spend less time on the court together

This starts with the team’s lead scoring options. It’s interesting to note that while the Knicks have struggled mightily over the past month, Julius Randle and RJ Barrett have actually been performing at a high level.

While Randle’s continued to struggle with his jumper, he’s averaging 24.4 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game over the past 12 contests. Meanwhile, Barrett’s currently on the best stretch of his brief career, averaging 23.8 points per game on 42.2% shooting since Jan. 1.

The main culprit for the recent losing streak has been the bench, which ironically enough was considered a strength at the beginning of this season. Alec Burks and Immanuel Quickley have both struggled with inefficiency while Derrick Rose and Nerlens Noel have hardly suited up due to injuries.

It would be wise for Thibodeau to stagger the minutes of Randle and Barrett and have one of the team’s top scorers on the court at all times. There are a number of role players whose performance fluctuates based on who they’re on the floor with.

Mitchell Robinson

With Barrett on and Randle off, Mitchell Robinson is averaging 14.9 points and 15.6 rebounds per 36 minutes according to FantasyLabs. With Randle on and Barrett off, Robinson’s numbers plummet to 9.1 points and 11.4 rebounds.

While the former All-Star tends to rely on a post-heavy offensive approach, Barrett often makes an effort to get Robinson involved in the pick & roll.

Cam Reddish

With Barrett on and Randle off, Cam Reddish averages 20.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per 36 minutes while shooting 55% from the field. With Randle on and Barrett off, he’s averaging 14 points, two rebounds, and two assists on just 30.8% shooting.

Barrett’s transition-heavy attacking mindset fits Reddish perfectly, similar to the days when they were teammates at Duke. The run-and-gun style allows Reddish to be heavily involved in the offense, which isn’t the case when he spends most of his time as a spot-up shooter next to  Randle.

This isn’t to say that everyone struggles when playing alongside Randle as there are a number of rotation players that excel with him.

Immanuel Quickley

With Randle on and Barrett off, Quickley is averaging 18.3 points per 36 minutes while shooting 39.7% from the field and 34.9% from three. With Barrett on and Randle off, those numbers drop to 15.8 points on 37.7% from the field and 32.5% from behind the arc.

Quickley benefits from Randle’s strong screens and it certainly helps that he’s a solid spot-up shooter whenever the 27-year old big gets doubled.

Obi Toppin

One of the most distinct differences is an unlikely one. With Randle on and Barrett off, Obi Toppin averages 16.4 points and 8.9 rebounds per 36 minutes on 55.6% shooting. With Barrett on and Randle off, those numbers drop to 13.8 points and 8.6 rebounds on just 41.9% shooting.

Thibodeau has been hesitant to commit to the Randle/Toppin small-ball frontcourt for long stretches, but the offensive potential that exists between a passing big of Randle’s caliber and a finishing big of Toppin’s caliber is sky-high.

Perhaps most importantly, Barrett and Randle both perform better individually when they’re not sharing the floor with each other.

With Randle on the court, Barrett averages 19.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per 36 minutes on 40.2% shooting. With Randle off, Barrett’s numbers increase to 25.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 4.2 assists on 45.5% shooting.

The 21-year old has been taking major developmental steps as a leading scorer this season and he’s beginning to cement his status as the future face of the franchise. The veteran isn’t too shabby, either.

With Barrett on the court, Randle averages just 18.8 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per 36 minutes on 40.8% shooting. With Barrett off, those numbers rise up to 22.3 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 5.1 assists on 42.8% shooting.

With questions to answer this offseason regarding the long-term fit of the pairing, it makes sense for Thibodeau to experiment with staggering their minutes. It wouldn’t only boost Barrett and Randle’s efficiency, but it would also benefit their teammates around them while picking up a few wins in the process. That sounds like a win-win to me.