New York Knicks: The key to Julius Randle’s insane start to 2021 boils down to one factor

New York Knicks, Julius Randle
Dec 31, 2020; Tampa, Florida, USA; New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) drives to the basket as Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet (23) defends during the second half at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

When the New York Knicks embarked on a tough opening to the 2021 season, they didn’t anticipate to start the year 5-3. The Knicks have won five of their last six games, with a majority of them being playoff-caliber squads. In their last three contests, the Knicks have scored no less than 106 points, beating the Indiana Pacers, Atlanta Hawks, and Utah Jazz consecutively.

The New York Knicks are surging, and credit is due:

A healthy portion of their success is thanks to power forward Julius Randle, who is averaging 23.1 points per game over 38.6 minutes. While he leads the team with 4.9 turnovers per contest, he’s also dominating the boards, hauling in 12 rebounds and 7.4 assists per game. His success this season boils down to one simple factor, reps. Randle spent the entire quarantine training relentlessly to become the best player he can possibly be under new head coach Tom Thibodeau. Ultimately, Covid allowed him to refine his abilities and go back to the basics, where he worked on his footwork and shot.

The New York Post interview Tyler Relph, Julius Randle’s personal trainer. His detailed answers unveil the key to the Knicks’ power-forward’s dominance this season, so far:

“He’s the hardest worker I’ve ever seen,” Relph says. “By far. You know, it isn’t easy to average 20 and 10 and 3 in the NBA. You don’t do that just by showing up. But even by that standard, he took it to an unbelievable level this summer.”

Being an elite score in the NBA is extremely difficult, especially when you’re not a primary shooter. Randle makes his money in the paint, driving the lane and making contested shots from the field. He’s not an elite three-point shooter like Steph Curry but relies on his physicality and aggressiveness to help his team put points on the board.

“We had nothing but time,” Relph says, “and he didn’t want to waste any of it. We had nine months. So I told him: ‘Let’s be an all-star. Let’s try to get you to be one of the best players in the league.’ We went back to what we used to do. Footwork, stuff to make sure he got to spots fast. Over and over. Every day.”

“I knew what this was going to be,” Relph says. “I told him, ‘You’re gonna play 40 [minutes] every night. If you play hard, Thibs is gonna let you go.’ We didn’t know he’d want him to be a point forward but once they talked and he said so it was just perfect. Plays to all of Ju’s strengths.

Thibodeau expects aggressive basketball with a focus on defense. As long as Julius was in shape and ready to play ample minutes, he could produce a fantastic season. He has been one of the driving forces behind the New York Knicks’ recent success, and without his off-season work, none of it would be possible.

“It’s been phenomenal because Julius and Thibs are of the same mindset. They’re workers. Neither of them has ever really been given anything, they had to earn everything. They’re both the first guys to work every day. They see things exactly the same way.”

At the rate Randle is on, not only will he be considered an All-Star, but he will justify the contract New York gave him in 2019. They inked him to a three-year, $62.1 million deal, which expires after the 2022 season. After last year‘s debacle, most believed Randle would be shipped off, but his mentality and dedication to the team have paid off in dividends.

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