Knicks need ‘aggressive’ Julius Randle as COVID-19 continues to strike

The New York Knicks are down four men as they embark on a two-game road trip in Houston and Boston to end the week.

Kevin Knox joined RJ Barrett, Obi Toppin, and Quentin Grimes in the health and safety protocols, the team announced on Thursday morning, less than 12 hours before tipoff against the Rockets.

With Knox out, it’s almost certain that Julius Randle’s playing minutes will reach the 40s. New York coach Tom Thibodeau will have to break the glass and pull out emergency backup big Taj Gibson to spell Randle some breather, especially when the Rockets play rookie power forward Usman Garuba off the bench.

Garuba played 17 minutes in the Rockets’ 124-89 loss to the Cavaliers Wednesday night in Cleveland.

Coming off a 31-point explosion in the Knicks’ latest loss to the Golden State Warriors at home, Randle is looking to have another big night. He should have an easier time against 6-4 Jae’Sean Tate and 6-6 KJ Martin, the two Rockets’ undersized forwards.

Randle regained his shooting touch in the second half against the Warriors. The 6-foot-8, 250-pound Knicks forward scored 25 of his game-high 31 points in the final two quarters. He went 5 for 6 from deep, catching rhythm as he abandoned his pump fakes and fired without hesitation.

“I just locked in and said I’m going to be aggressive,” Randle said after the loss. “I think when I overthink, naturally I try to be unselfish and try to kind of think the game and get everybody going and stuff like that. But I just said I’m going to be aggressive and kind of let my instincts take over.”

According to NBA’s tracking data, Randle hit 50 percent of his catch and shoot attempts, including 4 for 7 from the 3-point zone. In the eight games before the Warriors’ game or since Kemba Walker was out of the rotation, Randle only shot 25 percent off catch and shoot, including 26.1 percent from the outside.

“When I’m naturally just myself, I naturally do those things,” Randle said. “I’m hesitant and overthinking and I got an open shot and I don’t shoot it or whatever it is or I’m trying to play the right way and get other people going, it kind of takes me out of rhythm. It takes away from my aggressiveness.”

“It’s crazy because then I start to get turnovers and stuff like that. When I’m naturally aggressive and playing with force, everything falls into place. I get in a rhythm and I start not overthinking, open and shoot it, if they close out, then get into the paint and find people.”

Randle was prolific in the second half, hitting 7 of 12 shots, and only had one turnover in 20 minutes against the Warriors’ league-best defense. He also attacked the rim and made 6 of 6 free throws. In the first half, he had zero attempts from the stripes.

Overall, Randle made 4 of 7 shots within 10 feet from the basket, on par with his average attempts during the eight-game stretch entering Tuesday’s game. His attacking threat gave him some open looks from the outside. He had 12 open shots (4 to 6 feet from the closest defender), and he sank five of them. In the last eight games before Tuesday, he was only hitting 38.5 percent on 4.9 open look attempts.

“When he’s aggressive like that, it makes us better. And I love to see him when he’s attacking the rim,” Thibodeau said. “That puts a lot of pressure on people and it opens up things for us. And then I think he got into a good rhythm doing that. But we need everyone.”

Randle only had three assists, one in the second half. But it wasn’t like he did not try to move the ball and find his teammates. According to the NBA tracking data, Randle made 62 passes, resulting in 15 field goals for his teammates. Unfortunately, his teammates only hit 4 of 15.

Randle is still trying to strike a balance between when to pass and when to take over. But with their roster gutted out by COVID-19, the Knicks need an aggressive Randle to charge up their flailing offense.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo


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