The New York Knicks have completely adapted to the analytics age, making decisions based on probabilities and expectations due to numerical values. However, their statistics have led them down an interesting path, one that has backfired tremendously after signing Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier this past off-season to contribute more offensive production.
At this point in the season, Walker has already been benched due to lack of defense, and Fournier is wildly inconsistent on both sides of the floor. However, they likely didnâ€™t anticipate Julius Randle taking such a massive step backward in his progression.
During Randle’s All-Star campaign in 2020â€“21, he posted incredible defensive and offensive metrics. Over 37.6 minutes per game, he recorded a 106.8 defensive rating paired with a 109.8 offensive. It was the first time he recorded a positive net rating in his career, logging career highs in assist/turnover ratio and the lowest turnover ratio in his career.
Via his advanced statistics, he had the highest Player Impact Estimate (PIE measures a player’s overall statistical contribution against the total statistics in games they play in) over his first six seasons in the league at 15.8. Altogether, he was contributing elite play on both ends of the floor, which justified the Knicks extending him on a four-year, $117 million deal.
Randle was capable of dominating by himself last season, thanks to incredible defense and effort. This season, though, everything has fallen apart as the communication with the starting five has degraded, and the trust of his teammates has also been reduced to a minimum.
A bit of natural regression was expected after posting incredible stats last season, shooting 45.6% from the field and 41% from three-point range, averaging 24.1 points per game. This season, his average points have fallen to 19.6 per game and is shooting just 33.5% from three-point range, a massive difference despite maintaining his 5.5 attempts.
In fact, Randle is connecting on just 25.5% of wide-open 3-PT shots this season, when he was hitting 40% last year. That’s purely a confidence metric.
Julius Randle is shooting 25.5% on wide-open 3-pointers (no defender within six feet) this season (13-for-51)
He shot 40% on wide open 3PTâ€™s last season
— Tommy Beer (@TommyBeer) December 18, 2021
A drop-off of nearly 8% in three-point hit rate is astronomical, showing that Julius simply isnâ€™t converting shots at the same pace he did during his All-Star season. He is still managing to score at an adequate rate despite his fall in shooting efficiency. It is his defense that stands out as a primary liability, something that analysts arenâ€™t talking enough about.
It seems a lack of focus and energy has been a culprit for Randle’s struggles, or maybe even the team’s free-agent moves. Heâ€™s allowing 10.7 opponent fast-break points per game, the highest number since 2017 with the Los Angeles Lakers. Heâ€™s also giving up a career-high 9.5 points on opponent second chances. In other words, his defensive rebounding has taken a step back, which wasnâ€™t expected.
One statistic that stands out is a career-high 34.1% percentage of teams turnovers. He is turning the ball over at such a significant rate that he represents more than a quarter of the team’s entire number in the category.
Whether it be a lack of focus or just natural regression, it is clear that Randle isnâ€™t capable of leading a team as a No.1Â player. The Knicks desperately need to find him a partner in crime to help elevate his game, something everyone acknowledged during the off-season, and the front office failed to do. The pressure seems too much for a leader that seems to be exerting more energy yelling at the referees than motivating his team.
Marc Berman of the NY Post backed up that claim, with a source saying the locker room may be getting murky:
One source believes locker-room leadership has started to become an issue. Randle is not a born leader, self-admittedly the quiet type, as is Derrick Rose.
Randle is not known for his leadership qualities, so maybe the Knicks are dealing with a mentality and identity crisis without a vocal leader behind the scenes and on the floor.
Do these numbers indicate a Randle is a bad player? Absolutely not.
In fact, Julius is still an incredible scorer that has simply witnessed a dramatic drop-off in defensive quality. The reason behind his 3-PT drop-off seems more based on shot selection and confidence. These are mostly effort and positioning-based variables, so clearly, the change in starters with Kemba and Fournier impacted him in some way. The presence of Reggie Bullock and Elfrid Payton were mostly defensive boosters, and itâ€™s clearly having some strange impact on Randle’s performance.