Former New York Knicks All-Star Julius Randle has been playing with a different verve to start the season.
Randle’s re-emergence on offense is serving as the catalyst of the Knicks’ current four-game winning streak.
Randle could have given Joel Embiid, who convincingly won the Eastern Conference Player of the Week with monster numbers: 43.3 points and 10.3 rebounds, a run for his money if not for his ejection in the Knicks’ 112-99 win against the Sacramento Kings last Sunday.
Randle was on his way to a third straight 30-point effort after scoring 27 in the first half. But he left the game early with two technical fouls in the third quarter.
Randle claimed he relapsed. He’s been intentionally trying to avoid arguments with game officials this season after jawing with them and the fans in a poor display of behavior last year.
“I just can’t put my team in that situation,” Randle said. “It was selfish of me. So I gotta be better.”
Randle was fine until that fateful moment in the third quarter of Sunday’s win. He was not perfect, but he played with a joyful spirit, often smiling while playing unselfish basketball.
Stylistically, Randle shifted his game, applying things he learned from diving into Euroleague basketball last summer.
Internally, he also had a paradigm shift.
MSG Network courtside reporter Rebecca Haarlow reported Randle’s new pre-game routine — meditation with Filipino-American doctor Erwin Valencia, the Knicks’ physical therapist and wellness lead — earlier in the season.
Randle’s pursuit of bringing back the joy in his game after his soulless play last season has led him to mindfulness meditation.
“Mindfulness improves focus, concentration and our ability to let go of negative thoughts that can affect our performance. Athletes find mindfulness helps them to be process-oriented and less anxious, allowing them to enjoy better health and improved performance.”American Psychological Association via thetrueathleteproject.org
Last season, Randle was restless after his second child was born. This season, he’s sleeping more and has cut down on binging Netflix late at night. But more importantly, he’s been intentional in finding his inner peace before each game by meditating.
During his first year in New York, Randle was introduced to space and wellness, a program led by Valencia, the first Filipino to be on the medical staff for both an NBA and MLB team.
Randle wasn’t completely sold at first, but a league source said that the summer before he became an All-Star and won the Most Improved Player of the Year in the 2020-21 season, he was challenged by Los Angeles Lakers legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson.
Randle hired personal coaches, including a mental performance expert. Then last year, he drifted. But following last season’s debacle, Randle got back into it this past summer, leading to his new pregame routine. He approached Valencia before the season to do the mindfulness meditation three minutes before each game’s tip-off.
As his mental approach changed, so was his shot diet.
He has abandoned the long twos and is attacking the rim more. Before his meltdown, he was on a hot streak last week, averaging 31.3 points and 10.7 rebounds while shooting 39.4 percent from deep and 25 of 28 free throws that resembled his All-Star form.
If the Kings’ game was his lowlight, the highlight of his past week came against Clint Capela and the shorthanded Atlanta Hawks, where he battered them with 34 points, 17 rebounds, and five assists.
“It wasn’t just the shooting. It was running the floor. It was playmaking. The rebounding was special,” Thibodeau said of Randle, “and when he plays like that, we’re gonna be tough to beat.”
Randle sustained that form in Charlotte and the first half against the Kings. When the Kings doubled him, he egged on Barrett to cut into the middle and repeatedly made plays, including a Barrett lob to Mitchell Robinson from the high post.
“No one wants to see [Randle] going downhill. But he’s reading the game well,” Thibodeau said. “[The Kings] are sagging off. He’s letting go. He’s not overthinking and driving very aggressively to the basket.”
Randle has the ball in his hands less frequently, yet he’s scoring more efficiently. And he’s making more plays. Last season, Randle averaged 3.25 seconds per touch. That dropped to 2.82 seconds this season.
His quicker pace and better decision-making have made him a plus-9.3 in the Knicks’ victories this season. He’s becoming the barometer for the Knicks, as his splits suggest: 24.9 points on 17.7 attempts, a 48/35/84 shooting split during wins and 19.5 points on 14.8 shots, and a 44/32/78 shooting split in losses.
The Knicks need Randle’s best version to lift the team back into the playoffs.
He’s trying his best.
Randle’s demeanor and body language have drastically changed for the better. While he’s still prone to random meltdowns like Sunday night, he’s kept his emotions in check for most of this season, thanks to Valencia and the power of meditation.
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