Can Julius Randle handle being second fiddle behind new Knicks centerpiece RJ Barrett?

Alder Almo
Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, Knicks
Nov 8, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) celebrates with guard RJ Barrett (9) and guard Evan Fournier (13) against the Philadelphia 76ers in the second half at the Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Mitchell Leff-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks went as far as Julius Randle took them in the last two seasons.

As Randle took a nose dive from a career year that saw him become an All-Star and All-NBA Second Team player, so were the Knicks who went from fourth seed to crash out of the top 10 in the suddenly stacked Eastern Conference.

Randle’s emotional outbursts and public spats with fans took a heavy toll on the Knicks.

On the surface, Randle still had a productive season, averaging 20.1 points, 9.9 rebounds and 5.1 assists, joining Giannis Antetkounmpo and back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokic as the only players last season who averaged at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.

But underneath those gaudy numbers, Randle’s efficiency plummeted.

After an insane 41.1 percent three-point shooting accuracy in empty arenas in the 2020-21 season, he came crashing back to earth, hitting just 30.8 percent of his 3s last season. As a result, his overall field goal percentage suffered and went down to 41.1 percent from 45.6 percent. What’s staggering was all his advances stats, per Basketball Reference, dropped — from win shares (7.8 to 3.1) to VORP (3.9 to 1.6) — despite enjoying nearly the same usage rate (29.3 to 28.7).

Randle’s reputation as a ball stopper became more glaring last season. Iso Randle finished seventh in the league in isolation plays with 4.7 per game, but his 41.8 percent effective field goal percentage ranked lowest among the top 10 players, per NBA’s advanced stats.

After Knicks gave RJ Barrett the most lucrative contract in franchise history, which previously belonged to Randle entering last season, the key question hanging over the team’s upcoming season is can Randle handle being the second fiddle?

“RJ, you’re the centerpiece of the New York Knicks. You are a key piece to our future and to our success. He is a key piece to our core. We have a great young core. I mean RJ is 22 years old, and you know he’s continually gotten better each season.”

Knicks President Leon Rose via MSG Network

Barrett has accepted the responsibility and declared he wants to join the All-Star conversation sooner rather than later.

Rose said Randle is in great space right now after having what he termed as ‘rough patches’ last season. During the Knicks Media Day, Randle said all the right things.

“I learned a lot, it’s easy to be a leader when things are going good. When things aren’t as good and you’re going through adversity, it’s even more important. I learned a lot.”

Julius Randle via SNY

Randle believes Jalen Brunson’s arrival will make things easier for him. That is if he cedes the ball to Brunson like he should have done with Kemba Walker last season.

As Randle slumped last year, Barrett overtook him in the pecking order in the second half of last season, and for the better part, the Knicks showed so much promise with the 22-year-old Barrett leading the charge with the other young guys (Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin).

Barrett’s usage rate surged to a career-high 27.6 last season, and his appetite is growing. Add Brunson, who is expected to run this team, to the mix. The writing’s on the wall. Randle has to take a backseat.

Maybe it would increase his efficiency. Or it could lead to a worse situation than last season. Despite an expected diminished role, Randle still looms large and holds the key to Knicks’ success.

Randle came into training camp in great physical shape, with a chiseled body like he had in his career year. But it will take more than a physical transformation to avoid the pitfalls of last season.

Acceptance is the first step. It appears he’s ready for the next step — embracing a secondary role as there’s a shift in the Knicks hierarchy.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo