Birthday boy Julius Randle on Knicks’ morale: ‘I think we’re fine’

Julius Randle, New York Knicks

New York Knicks forward Julius Randle kept his postgame press conference short.

He was in no mood to talk about another heartbreaker at home, a 127-123 loss to Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies, in a game where he only attempted a single shot in the final quarter and only two in the second half.

Randle finished one assist short of a triple-double (14 points, 10 rebounds and 9 assists). But he only took a season-low nine shots as he watched Jalen Brunson (30 points on 8 of 20 field goals) and RJ Barrett (22 points on 9 of 17 field goals) get the lion’s share of the offense.

Despite Randle’s quiet night, the Knicks were one Brunson basket away from beating last year’s Western Conference finalist. The ball moved with the Knicks’ 30 assists as proof. It just didn’t find Randle back, especially in the second half. But he didn’t make it an issue. Instead, he lauded the team’s ball movement.

“We try to make it easier for each other. So we have our initial actions, off the ball, trying to cut, your movement, not as much standing. So it was better [Monday night] for sure.”

Julius Randle postgame via

Welcome to Randle-naissance.

Randle still leads the Knicks in usage rate. But he’s no longer just dominating the possessions like he used to. His league’s eighth-highest 4.9 isolation plays per game last season has dropped outside the top 20 this season, averaging only three per game.

Randle, Barrett and Brunson are all averaging at least a 25 percent usage rate. They’re only separated by slim margins — Randle with 25.8, Barrett with 25.2 and Brunson with 25.1.

But in their last three games, where Brunson averaged 32.0 points, 7.3 assists and 3.3 rebounds, Randle’s usage rate dropped to 22.2. Brunson surged to a 29.8 usage rate, while Barrett almost stayed the same (25.6).

During the same stretch, Randle put up 20.7 points, 9.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists while shooting 47.7 percent from the field. Despite the significant drop in usage rate, those numbers are still better than in his first 17 games: 20.5 points on 46.1 percent shooting, 8.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists.

The shift in the Knicks’ landscape in those three games has resulted in an offensive explosion, ranking no. 3 in points (127.0) behind last season’s NBA Finals protagonists, Boston Celtics (130.7) and Golden State Warriors (130.0).

It’s their defense that needs to improve, as they were in the bottom five during that stretch, losing two close games against Memphis and Portland while winning over a young Oklahoma City team.

With the Knicks’ health nearing 100 percent, with only Immanuel Quickley on the injury list, things could only go better from here after what Randle aptly described as an ‘up and down’ first 20 games.

Randle was bullish on Cam Reddish’s return. As well as veteran Derrick Rose.

“They were great moving off the ball. Cam hit some big shots. Derrick was great with the minutes that he got, being aggressive.”

Julius Randle postgame via

Randle turns 28 Tuesday.

There are still moments when his effort isn’t consistent, but he’s grown a lot since last season’s debacle.

Asked about Brunson missing two potential game-winners, he said those are shots Brunson normally makes, so it was fine.

When asked how the team’s morale after Sunday night’s deflating loss, his answer was short.

“I think we’re fine.”

Julius Randle postgame via

It could have been worse.

But if Randle is really embracing Brunson as the Knicks’ new alpha, then there’s hope they’ll be just fine.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

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