The 2021-22 season for the New York Knicks has been a disappointing one so far. Sitting four spots away from last place in the Eastern Conference with a 24-30 record, the Knicks have struggled to establish a consistent yet productive scoring output throughout the course of the season.
With the Knicks possessing a Top 10 defense that only allows its opponents to score 105.4 points per game, it’s their offense that is struggling once again, despite signing point guard Kemba Walker and shooting guard Evan Fournier last summer to alleviate their scoring troubles.
Although the Knicks’ offensive woes are by no means a result of one player’s shortcomings, the weight of the blame has fallen on the shoulders of the Knicks’ best player, in Julius Randle. Though this treatment is not entirely justifiable considering how extensive this issue is across the entire team, Randle’s scoring mishaps have stood out the most, and like a sore thumb, have been impossible to ignore.
Last season, Randle was elected to his first All-Star Game, and for good reason. He finished the season averaging 24.1 ppg, 10.2 rpg, and 6.0 apg while shooting 45.6% from the field to go along with a sharp 41.1 3-PT shooting percentage as well. Fast forward to this season, and Randle’s only posting 18.9 ppg, 9.9 rpg, and 5.1 apg to go with a measly 41.8 field goal percentage and a lousy 30.8 3-PT percentage as well.
Because of this stark drop from Randel’s scoring output, there’s been a couple of trade rumors hovering over him as the deadline approaches, including the possibility of the Knicks potentially trading him for Sacramento Kings point guard DeAaron Fox.
Although trading Randle for a playmaking, scoring-oriented point guard might sound quite appealing, is doing so the best bet for the Knicks moving forward? Despite their desperate need for a point guard, the answer is a big no and for a handful of key reasons.
The first reality that’s vital to grasp about Randle is that he’s a very important foundational piece for the Knicks and brings a broad set of skills and strengths that can’t be replaced by just anyone in this league. In fact, Randle is truly one of the most complete players in the NBA, with just how good he is at scoring inside the paint and outside on the perimeter, crashing the glass, passing the ball, and playing defense.
However, the reason why he’s struggled so much this season is due to the role and expectations the Knicks are placing on him. What’s important to understand about Randle is that, although he can score and put up points, he’s not a naturally gifted scorer that will drop 25+ per game, something the Knicks have been in desperate need of over these last three years. Aside from averaging 24 points per game last season (a career-high), asking Randle to be your main scorer is not playing him to his strengths. And the demand and pressure of that role has impacted his ability to score throughout this season.
The best way to understand what the Knicks are dealing with in Randle is to think of it this way: Randle is his own version of what Draymond Green is for the Golden State Warriors. Though Randle obviously scores more than Green, the key point to grasp here is that Randle is a much better playmaker than he is a scorer, similarly to that of Green. And because the Knicks haven’t been able to provide him with anyone that can drop 25+ a game on a regular basis, he’s struggled with the pressure of filling that void along with RJ Barrett, Fournier, and Walker.
If the Knicks traded for a player like Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal, or Donovan Mitchell and found a way to keep Randle at the same time, Randle would thrive and work really well with the scoring balance these superstars provide. But because he doesn’t have that natural scorer to work with, the pressure has gotten to him more than ever, and trading him wouldn’t solve this offensive crisis the Knicks are dealing with.
Lastly, the Knicks gave Randle a big 4-year extension worth $117 million that starts this summer. And after choosing to invest big in their bright power forward, the Knicks might as well give him a chance to live up to that expectation before pulling the plug on him.
As we saw with Green in Golden State, having a playmaking big man that’s so versatile is truly game-changing and provides an anchoring level of stability for a team that’s hard to come by. But just like Green, Randle needs his Steph Curry. And if there are any players the Knicks want to trade by the deadline, they should consider everyone else but their best player in Julius Randle.