The New York Knicks learned an important lesson during the two games they spent without power forward Julius Randle. While fans and analysts called for Randle to spend more time on the bench, noting several implicating statistics, they didn’t realize just how much he contributed toward his teammates enjoying open looks and uncontested shots.
The Knicks were completely overpowered during the two games Randle missed, losing by 15 points in both against sub .500 teams in Oklahoma City and Toronto.
Randle regressed to the mean after an All-Star performance during the 2020–21 season, but he is still an incredibly important player to the Knicks’ playoff hopes. On Tuesday evening, his dominance inside and energy provided New York with an electrifying spark against the Indiana Pacers, a game they won 104–94.
“One of the best late night calls I ever got,” Thibodeau said after the game regarding Randle’s status on Tuesday.
“For Julius to do what he did today is just remarkable. To come out of health and safety protocols, travel and play. We had no idea what he was gonna be like. Unbelievable effort.” – Via Fred Katz of The Athletic
Randle finished with 30 points, 16 rebounds, and four assists. He posted a +12 +/-, showcasing rejuvenated defense and offensive prowess. The veteran forward signed a lucrative four-year, $117 million extension this past off-season to stick with a Knicks over the long term, and they desperately need him to be their fearless leader on a nightly basis.
Before Julius was ruled out as a result of a positive Covid test early last week, he was struggling to post consistent results. On the season, he’s hitting only 32.8% of his three-point shots but attempting the same amount as last season (5.5). He recorded a 41% success rate from deep during his All-Star campaign, averaging nearly 5 additional points per game.
Even after incorporating the increase in defensive rating, assist/turnover ratio reduction, and overall regression of his statistics, Randle’s presence was felt against Indiana, who couldn’t keep up with his physicality and seemingly endless energy over 39 minutes.
The media presented a challenge for Randle, in which he answered with flying colors despite dealing with nicks and nacks over the past few weeks, according to Thibodeau. If, in fact, he was suffering through minor injuries that held him back from performing at his peak abilities, a few days off as a result of a positive Covid test might’ve done him well. He undoubtedly seemed reenergized and ready to take on the challenge of a team that features two big centers in Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis.
However, his performance against the Pacers was reminiscent of his All-Star season, and hopefully, he can continue to build off the win as the next prepared to take on the Boston Celtics consecutively on Thursday and Saturday.