Former New York Knicks All-Star Julius Randle has been playing with a different verve to start the season.
As strong as their defense is, Randle’s re-emergence on offense has been 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 had he not gotten ejected 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 season.
“I just can’t put my team in that situation. … It was selfish of me. So I gotta be better.”Julius Randle via SNY
Up until that fateful moment in the third quarter of Sunday’s win, Randle was fine. Not perfect but was playing 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 earlier in the season: meditation with Filipino-American doctor Erwin Valencia, the Knicks’ physical therapist and wellness lead.
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. Haarlow reported courtside during Saturday’s broadcast that he’s sleeping more this season 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.
Until he relapsed in the third quarter.
During his first year in New York, Randle was introduced to space and wellness, a program led by Valencia that the Knicks have had since the Phil Jackson regime.
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, he was challenged by 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 personally approached Valencia before the season to do the mindfulness meditation three minutes before tip-off.
As his mental approach changed, so is his shot diet.
He’s abandoned the long twos and attacking the rim more. Before his meltdown, he was on a hot streak, 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 last week.
If the Kings’ game was his lowlight, the highlight of his last 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. And when he plays like that, we’re gonna be tough to beat.”Tom Thibodeau Knicks-Hawks postgame via MSG Network
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 him going downhill. But he’s reading the game well. [The Kings] are sagging off. He’s letting go. He’s not overthinking, and he’s driving very aggressively to basket.”Tom Thibodeau Knicks-Kings postgame via MSG Network
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. This season that dropped to 2.82 seconds.
His quicker pace and better decision-making this season have made him plus-9.3 in the Knicks’ wins. He’s becoming a sort of a 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 attempts, and a 44/32/78 shooting splits 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 largely to meditation.
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