Julius Randle is playing the best ball of his career, and it’s time for the fanbase to rally around his improved effort.

It was just one year ago when Julius Randle heard the boos from a hostile Madison Square Garden crowd as he retaliated with a thumbs-down gesture in their win over the Boston Celtics. The New York Knicks may have won the game thanks to some crunch-time heroics from RJ Barrett, but the body language of Julius Randle was clearly the elephant in the room in the aftermath of the game.

Coming off a season where the Knicks made the playoffs and Randle was selected to the All-NBA second team, fans had high expectations for him as well as the team. and rightfully so. With the Knicks missing the playoffs in the 2021-22 season, many people called for him to be traded.

Despite all the negative connotations surrounding the former Kentucky forward, the Knicks organization continued to rally around him in the offseason as he continued to hone his craft for the upcoming season. The team retooled to better fit Randle’s play by shipping out several role players to go out and sign Jalen Brunson.

Now three months into the 2022-23 campaign, Julius Randle has swayed the opinion of the fans and is playing the best basketball of his career to date. Late in the third quarter of the Knicks’ 102-83 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Monday afternoon, Randle received praise from the fans as he stepped up to shoot two free throws:

The hate from a year ago was warranted, but it shouldn’t have lasted this long. There is, as they say, a season for everything and the season for criticizing Randle has passed like winter into spring. The Knicks’ star is putting together yet another career year for the Knicks, as it’s likely he becomes an All-Star for the second time in three years. For the season, Randle is averaging 24.2 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 3.8 assists with a true shooting percentage of 59.4%. These numbers are eerily similar to the numbers he put up in his All-NBA campaign, though its unlikely he receives those same honors this season given the scoring uptick the league has seen in the last couple years.

Nonetheless, Randle’s play has taken the Knicks to newer heights alongside Jalen Brunson and RJ Barrett, stringing together an eight-game winning streak in the month of December, their longest streak since the 2020-21 season where the Knicks put together nine straight wins.

In December alone, Randle reached another level of play, averaging 28.3 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 4.3 assists, leading the Knicks to a 9-6 record for the month overall, given the absences of Barrett and Brunson late in the month. His ability to buy into what the team is doing right now has paid dividends for everyone, especially the front office, who signed him to a four-year, $117 million extension following his All-NBA second-team campaign. The contract is starting to look like one of the better bargains in the NBA, and he’s only in the first year of the deal.

So, what has changed for Randle to get here?

Last season was something that nobody could’ve forecasted, not even Randle himself. With the additions of Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker, the Knicks lost their identity on the defensive end. While these two guys were brought in to bolster the offense, their play ultimately did not gel with the likes of Randle and others, which is why we saw Walker subsequently shipped off and Fournier now relegated to the bench. The recognition from the front office that this experiment was not working was the first step, with the next step being to find a playmaker that would impact Randle in a positive way.

No matter the relations he had with the team prior to signing with them, Jalen Brunson has benefitted Randle’s play in more ways than just one. For starters, Julius was the primary playmaker for the Knicks last season with Walker and Alec Burks not serving the team any justice to create. With Brunson now in town, it allows for Randle to get to get to his spots and score, along with the ability to create should he not get an open look.

Brunson’s arrival has significantly benefitted Randle’s play, but most of the praise should be attributed to Randle himself. His true shooting percentage this season is his highest as a Knick, to go with a career-high in scoring. With the way he has been getting to the basket and nailing shots, expect Randle to stay on the same pace as the season continues on.

His statistics on the season have been impressive, but when digging deep into his advanced statistics, you’ll find that Julius Randle is very impactful to the team’s success, no matter what type of body language he has out on the floor. On offense, the Knicks score 10.5 more points (96th percentile) with Randle out on the floor, while effectively shooting three percent better (86th percentile) as a team while he’s out there. Simply put, he helps his team in more ways than one as his teammates are a beneficiary of his solid play.

Another reason why he has been scoring the ball at a high rate has been his ability to get to the free throw line. This season Randle is averaging a career high in free throw attempts with 7.1 per game. His ability to be aggressive around the rim and put his body into his defender has helped him get whistles in his favor. Being adept at getting to the free throw line has been important to the Knicks success as they get to the line as often as any team, averaging 25.4 attempts per game, which is good for fifth in the league. His ability to recognize how the game is played in today’s game in regards to drawing fouls shows how far Randle has come since he first signed with the Knicks back in 2019. Drawing fouls may not be the entire game by any means, but it sure does help put the team in a better position to win games going forward. Continue to keep an eye on Randle’s controlled aggressiveness as the season goes on.

The area of his game that stands out the most in comparison to last year is his shooting tendencies. In seasons past, we’ve seen Randle shoot a significant amount of mid-range jump shots. This season in particular has been different. We’ve seen him take notably less shots from mid-range and instead shoot more three pointers, which has helped him go on a scoring outburst in the last month of play.  The fact that Randle has become open-minded about his approach to the game and has adapted to how some of greatest players in the league play is a good indication of what is to come for 2023 and years ahead.

The 2021-22 season was not a season to remember for the New York Knicks as there was turmoil with how players were playing and how the show was run from behind the scenes. Regardless, this is a new and revitalized team that we are watching that will play their best to put the New York Knicks in a winning position and a chance to compete in this year’s playoffs, with Julius Randle at the helm of it all. The past is the past for the former lottery pick, but with the way the ball has rolled in the last few weeks for himself and the team, it’s time to stop hating on Julius Randle and rally around him instead with the All-Star break approaching and the second half of the season in sight.

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