Last season, Kemba Walker was from the outside looking in as he watched Julius Randle grew into an NBA All-Star and an All-NBA player for the New York Knicks.
The last three weeks confirmed what he already thought all along.
“My first impressions were that he loves being in the gym,” Walker said Monday during the NBA Media Day. “You can tell. You can always tell when somebody’s living in the gym and working on their games because he improved so much, overall, like his game was just on the money last season. It’s pretty exciting to watch, actually.”
“You love to see guys who just get better. He’s one of those guys who just really turned it on. I’m looking forward to being out there with him.”
After a disappointing first year with the Knicks, Randle took a historic leap last season, averaging career-highs in points (24.1), rebounds (10.2), assists (6.0), 3-point percentage (41.1%), and free throw percentage (81.1%). He became the first Knick to win the Most Improved Player award since its inception in 1985.
Randle also joined Larry Bird (1984-85) as the only players in NBA history to average 20 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists per game while also shooting 40% from deep in a single season.
Randle was rewarded with a $117 million, four-year extension that could become a bargain if he continues to improve over the life of that contract.
Along with Evan Fournier, Walker was brought in to ease the heavy load Randle carried last season. Tom Thibodeau banked heavily on Randle, who led the league in minutes playing a league-high 2,667 minutes (37.6 per game) in 71 games, sitting out only one game during the pandemic-shortened regular season.
While Walker was building on his lower body’s strength at the Knicks’ practice facility these past three weeks, he saw firsthand why Randle had accomplished those feats and became the face of the Knicks’ resurgence last season.
“I love the way he carries himself,” Walker said. “He goes super hard. He works super hard. He’s a leader, which I love. And I’m kinda trying to help him in that aspect as well. He’s just a dog. You love being around guys like that. I’m looking forward to adding to his intensity and his passion and love for the game.
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