Knicks’ RJ Barrett comes to Julius Randle’s defense for lack of scoring production

rj barrett, julius randle, new york knicks

When the New York Knicks signed All-Star power forward Julius Randle to a four-year, $117 million extension, they expected him to be their primary leader, taking over games offensively and putting them in a position to win. However, Randle has been wildly inconsistent this season, posting -3.3 +/-, with 19.2 points, 5.0 assists, and 10.2 rebounds per game.

Overall, Randle has had his fair share of ups and downs this year, posting just eight points in the Knicks’ win over the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday evening. Over his last five games, Randle has showcased elite scoring capabilities and insufficient production at the same time. On November 21 against the Chicago Bulls, he earned 34 points.

The Knicks need a more reliable and consistent version of their All-Star, who in the month of November is shooting 32.9% from three-point range. On the year, he’s only hitting 33% of his shots from deep, far below his 41% clip from just a year ago. His inefficiency from deep has hurt his scoring production, despite his attempts seeing a slight increase compared to the 2020–21 campaign.

However, Julius has made an impact in different ways, specifically with his rebounding, matching his 10.2 from last season. Nonetheless, head coach Tom Thibodeau still sees positives from his game and what he’s able to contribute.

“I thought he made a lot of good plays for us,” Thibodeau said after the win against Atlanta.

Thibodeau was straight into the point with his review of Randle’s play. Whether he’s willing to say it or not, the veteran forward needs to be more consistent with his shooting and use his physicality to open up opportunities for his teammates. Randle isn’t playing being selfish at times, forcing isolation shots and trying to do too much on his own when he can curate higher probability attempts by just passing the ball one extra time.

Third-year guard RJ Barrett came to his defense as well, stating that he does a lot more for the team than just score points.

“Even if he’s not scoring a lot,” RJ Barrett added, “he’s doing so much out there.”

Barrett has a point, as Randle does a lot of the dirty work other players are not capable of doing. Posting double-digit rebounds per game is a serious statistic that shouldn’t be overlooked. Without his consistent bounding, the Knicks wouldn’t be in the top-15 in defensive rebounds this season. He’s also seen an astronomical increase in his block rate, more than doubling compared to last year.

It was anticipated that Randle would see a bit of natural regression after having his best season, but he’s still making a solid impact for a team that desperately needs him to be at the top of his game. The burden has gotten a bit heavier on his shoulders with the Knicks’ complementary players failing to make a significant impact, but the play Obi Toppin has convinced Thibodeau to utilize him more, especially for his transition abilities.

Toppin is having a steadfast second season in the NBA, averaging 8.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, 0.8 blocks, and shooting 52.9% from the field. He’s scored double-digit points in three of his last five games, playing a significant role off the bench. Interestingly, the second Thibodeau pulled Toppin from the game against Atlanta, the double-digit lead shrunk instantaneously with Randle on the floor.

Randle has struggled in the month of November to find a balanced game between his offense and defense, but his compliments haven’t done him any favors with lackluster positioning and ball movement. Oddly, I think the catalyst for New York is energy — the second team pushes the defense, creating opportunity in transition with fewer defenders when the starters seem to slow things down and allow opposing teams to close out shots. The up-tempo game isn’t necessarily sustainable, but the energy has been looking with the starters the past few weeks.

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