Both Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson have played well enough to be named All-Stars. The only question is, will they get what they’ve earned?
When it comes to All-Star weekend, the New York Knicks should be well represented. And yet, not only did the dunk contest seemingly snub athletic freak Jericho Sims but also the reigning champion Obi Toppin, in an unusual move. Still, Immanuel Quickley would be an excellent candidate for the skills competition, while Quentin Grimes should be a lock for the Rising Stars game and even a dark horse candidate for the three-point contest. If the NBA opens up its selection of players to the events, they will find that the Knicks have some ideal candidates.
But the most important event, the All-Star game, should also see some New York representation. Both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving lead in the third return on All-Star votes, but for the Knicks, Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson will have to hope to get in as coaches’ selections. After successful first halves of the season, both players deserve the recognition.
Let’s start here: It’s incredibly hard for a team to have two non-superstars make the All-Star game. We’ve seen teams get multiple all-stars off of team success, like the mid-2010 Hawks getting the likes of Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, Al Horford, and Kyle Korver into the game, or the Pistons of the mid-to-late 2000s with variations of Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace, Richard Hamilton, and Chauncey Billups all making the event.
And there’s always turnover. It’s always important to recognize guys who took a step forward and have momentum for a spot – like Indiana’s Tyrese Haliburton (sorry Wally) – or players who missed it one year due to injury and are back to reclaim their spot – think Zion Williamson. If you aren’t a team with two genuine household-name stars or top seeding status, it’s extremely tough to have multiple All-Stars make it.
That said, the Knicks currently sport a record over .500 and it’s tough to parse through who deserves that credit. Jalen Brunson has been amazing and is closer to a lock than Julius Randle, but Randle has also done a great job in holding down the fort while Brunson was out. Let’s look at both players and discuss their chances.
I don’t think anyone saw Jalen Brunson’s performance coming. Even after signing a four-year deal worth $104 million this summer, Brunson was viewed as less of a star play and more a solid upgrade for a team that was in the midst of a 30-year run of point guard struggles. Not only has Brunson solidified the position, but his play has helped elevate a team that needed a free-agent hit of this magnitude.
Among guards that have played 30 games or more, Brunson ranks 11th in the league in offensive EPM amongst guards at +3.4, via dunksandthrees.com. He’s one of the best offensive players in the league, despite his lack of athletic ability. Brunson is in the 90th percentile in isolation plays, good for a 1.16 PPP (points per possession), via nba.com. His combination of slashing, shooting, and the overall offensive attack has given New York another weapon at the most important position in basketball. And there’s still room for growth – Brunson hasn’t taken over the Knicks offense as much as the fans would like and he still isn’t launching as many threes as you’d like (39.8% this season, but on just 4.4 attempts per game).
The guard room will be full of talent, with Darius Garland and Tyrese Haliburton surefire coaches selections, to name a few. However, the Knicks have played well and Brunson feels like the ideal candidate to give some respect to. Look at Brunson’s All-Star bid as a start to him getting proper recognization across the league and a proper introduction to his Most Improved Player candidacy later in the year.
Before we go and discuss this year’s version of Randle and his candidacy, let’s talk about the last time the former Kentucky Wildcat was an All-Star player. In the midst of leading the Knicks to the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, Randle finished the season with averages of 24.1 points, 10.2 rebounds, six assists, and 41.1 percent shooting from the outside – the second player in the history of the NBA to tally those numbers in a season, with the first being Larry Bird. Randle was in the midst of a superstar-level season.
This season, Randle is averaging 24.2 points, 10.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and shooting 33.5 percent from the outside. Harking back to a previous article, Randle made the change needed to help the Knicks: adjusting his shot diet by eliminating the long-two from his shot selection while decreasing some of his ball-pounding tendencies. Becoming a player who scores a majority of his points at the rim and behind the three-point line has helped the Knicks’ offense, but also Randle’s efficiency. In the 2021-22 season, Randle self-destructed and it hurt the Knicks. In the 2022-23 season, Randle’s adjustments offensively have been critical in making the addition of Brunson work.
While Brunson’s candidacy feels solidified, Randle is more of a wait-and-see. The number of talented forwards and centers could push Randle to the outside looking in, but also, the number of second bananas on other teams could hurt him as well. Just a quick look at the Eastern Conference, there’s an argument for Boston (Jaylen Brown), Cleveland (Darius Garland), Philadelphia (James Harden), and Miami (Bam Adebayo) over Randle, and that’s not including Kyrie Irving, who seems destined to win a starting guard spot.
It looks like an uphill climb for Randle, but one he might be able to make through.
When it comes to the New York Knicks, a successful first half of the season should call for several players to travel to Utah for an all-star weekend. As I mentioned before, they have several candidates for the dunk contest, three-point contest and skills challenge if the league decides to go down that route. However, the most important area is the actual game, where both Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle have made their candidacy well known this season.
Whether it be one or both, both Brunson and Randle have assumed leadership responsibilities for the Knicks on the offensive end, both creating offense for their own, as well as generating offense for their team. With the Knicks tied for the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference with two 20-point scorers, I believe that should call for a look at two Knicks representing the team in the All-Star game.