Projecting how the Knicks will replace Julius Randle’s production following season-ending surgery

New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) high fives guard Josh Hart (3) in front of Brooklyn Nets forward Mikal Bridges (1) during the fourth quarter at Barclays Center
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks received the worst possible news about their All-Star, Julius Randle, early Thursday. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Randle will miss the rest of the season and the playoffs as he will undergo surgery on his dislocated right shoulder.

The news is devastating for a team that looked to be in line to contend for the NBA title this year, as they will now have to attempt a deep run without their three-time All-Star. Looking ahead, New York will now need to find a way to replace the valuable production he provided, which is going to be a daunting task.

In 46 games this season, Randle averaged 24 points, 9.2 rebounds, and five assists per game and was named to his third All-Star game in four seasons.

The Knicks have had to find ways to replace Randle

Randle first suffered the injury on Jan. 27 against the Miami Heat. Since then, the Knicks have utilized lineups with Precious Achiuwa playing the power forward spot, and others with Josh Hart in that role.

OG Anunoby has only played three games since that date as he deals with an elbow injury. However, he could be back soon after head coach Tom Thibodeau said he has been cleared for contact.

What made Randle so effective in his role was his ability to draw double teams and make the right reads passing out of them, which would leave guys open for clean looks both inside and out on the perimeter. With Jalen Brunson being the only true shot creator without Randle, teams have been forcing the ball out of his hands and into the hands of someone who is used to playing off the ball.

Tom Thibodeau has opted for a smaller lineup recently

As a result, Thibodeau has had to mix and match his rotations to keep opposing defenses on their heels. He has seemed to stray away from starting Achiuwa after it created a big hole in terms of spacing in the frontcourt. Over the last nine games, Miles McBride has entered the starting lineup, with Hart moving over to the starting power forward spot.

In those nine games, Hart is averaging a near triple-double with 10.4 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 7.3 assists, but his three-point shooting has faltered drastically, shooting an abysmal 17.4% from downtown. As a team, however, their shooting has improved since the change as they are shooting 39% from outside the arc in that span, compared to 35% from Jan. 28 to March 11.

The change has helped the Knicks stay afloat, as they are 5-4 over their last nine games and just rallied off an impressive comeback win over the Sacramento Kings behind big games from Brunson and Hart.

READ MORE: Knicks HC Tom Thibodeau sounds off on officials following loss to Heat

Can Hart and Anunoby replicate Randle’s production?

While it is encouraging to see Hart step up when they need him to the most, the playoffs will be difficult. Despite Randle historically struggling in the playoffs, this seemed to be the best team he had been around in his Knicks tenure. Randle was playing some of his best basketball before suffering the injury, and now the Knicks won’t get a chance to see if that high level of production would carry over into the playoffs.

With six games left in the regular season, the hope is that Anunoby can return in time to get stretched out for the postseason, and he would theoretically slot into Randle’s spot. However, they will be lacking the depth they thought they were going to have for the postseason, and it will be nearly impossible for any of them to fully replicate the production he gave them in a playoff setting.

Obviously, anything can happen, but the Knicks will certainly be up for the biggest challenge they will face heading into the postseason without a key piece.

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