Julius Randle has been close to a disaster for the Knicks, constantly turning the ball over. New York is, naturally, using him wrong on offense, too, though.
As the Knicks’ biggest free-agency signing this summer, Julius Randle inspired New York fans to believe in a playoff berth despite missing out on Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Randle is coming off a career high season in New Orleans, where he averaged 21.4 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. As the number one option in New York, fans and analysts alike expected that production to increase, potentially into an All-Star-level stat line.
Instead of taking that step forward, Randle turned the ball over taking four steps back. In 10 games for the Knicks, Randle has shown little versatility or growth offensively, and absolutely nothing positive defensively. So what is going wrong with the newest member to the Knicks’ core?
From New Orleans to New York, there has been a complete contrast in how the 24-year-old power forward operates in the halfcourt. Randle likes to dribble down the shot clock, using his strength to power over his defender like an old-school big for a shot near the rim. In New Orleans, this type of ball-stopping Randle possession was limited because it was antithesis to their offensive scheme. The 2018–19 Pelicans had the second-highest pace in the league, which benefited Randle; catching the ball on the move allowed him to average career high scoring numbers, while not getting in his own way. The newsworthy Pelicans were third in points per game despite being 11th in points per 100 possessions. Their quick pace helped the team—and Randle—become elite offensive weapons.
A Knicks’ coaching staff that wouldn’t play Frank Ntilikina consistent minutes until every other option got hurt is, surprisingly, not using Randle effectively. New York is allowing Randle to play without a purpose. David Fizdale likes to let players figure out the offense while on the court, which is hurting Randle’s growth. Randle’s attempts at running the offense have led the Knicks to the worst offense in the league.
While Randle’s passing has always made him an exciting offensive player—one can picture him working from the post as a point-forward—this vision has never worked out for him. Putting the ball in his hands for that long not only slows down the offense (the Knicks currently have the sixth-slowest pace in the league) but highlights the fact that Randle does not have a point guard’s mind or ability. He is terrible at keeping the ball close while dribbling, and he often struggles seeing open teammates.
There seem to be about five possessions a night that go this way for the new Knick:
Point-forward Julius Randle is currently averaging 4.1 turnovers to 3.9 assists, with a turnover rate of 17.3%, in the eight percentile for Bigs, per Cleaning the Glass. Only one big, Andre Drummond, has turned it over more than Randle this season. To expand even further, only three bigs are averaging more than 3.3 turnovers per game: Julius Randle, Andre Drummond, and Joel Embiid. Needless to say, having the ball in Randle’s hands has neither benefited him nor the Knicks.
With Ntilikina now proving his worth in the starting lineup, Randle can play alongside an actual point guard. This would allow the Knicks to maximize a part of their new power forward’s game that has been completely ignored this season: his dominance as a roll man.
Last season, Randle averaged 1.34 points per possession as a roll man for the Pelicans, good for the 92nd percentile. While on the Knicks, Randle hasn’t even run enough pick-and-roll to qualify. Completely ignoring one of the greatest aspects of a player’s game is a huge oversight for the coaching staff.
While Ntilikina is not a Chris Paul–esque passer, he is more than capable of setting up teammates with pocket passes out of a pick-and-roll. With a point guard now in the starting lineup, Randle should have the ball in his hands less and look to be set up, instead of trying to find a rhythm by himself.
While the offensive problems have potential quick solutions, Randle’s defensive issues look beyond repair. He is slow moving laterally, he ball watches, and he often lacks the effort to make up for his liabilities.
I was foolishly optimistic about Robinson being able to cover for Randle’s misgivings on the defensive end. Marcus Morris and R.J. Barrett, being surprisingly good defenders, make an impressive defensive starting lineup which should be able to cover for one poor defender.
Yet Randle’s problems extend further than just letting his man beat him:
Randle is casually walking behind Dorian Finney-Smith, unaware that he just left the opposing team’s best player open for a three. What Randle brought offensively last year made him good enough to be in starting and closing lineups for a good team. The Knicks can live with Randle being a weak defender, but he can not act like the guy at work who plays computer Solitaire all day.
This is all up to Randle and how the coaching staff inspires him—but it doesn’t look like he will be anything more than a negative on defense.
Julius Randle has largely disappointed since arriving in the Big Apple. He and the Knicks’ coaching staff need to be locked in a room for days, so they can watch and analyze the things that made Randle a fringe All-Star in New Orleans (pick-and-roll, shorter possessions, shooters around him) until they change his approach on the court. Randle has been a problem for the Knicks, and New York should quickly address the areas that have solutions if they want to win more than 25 games.