The Knicks showed their loyalty to Julius Randle this offseason, taking pressure off the All-Star

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Despite the New York Knicks being involved in several trade scenarios, including for star point guard Damian Lillard, they elected to remain loyal to some of their players preparing to hit the free-agent market. Bringing back Nerlens Noel, Alec Burks, and Derrick Rose on three-year contracts showcased their desire for continuity. Having earned the 4th Seed in the Eastern Conference last season, in theory, keeping the majority of their most influential players would provide similar results.

However, the front office didn’t stop at retaining a few familiar faces, they also target upgrades at shooting guard and point guard.

Fortunately for star power forward Julius Randle, the Knicks decided to build around him instead of injecting another top player to steal the spotlight. Randle had his best season to date in 2020, averaging a career-high 24.1 points, 6.0 assists, 10.2 rebounds, and shot 45.6% from the field. He also connected on 41% from three, which blew his previous high of 34% out of the water.

Having played 37.6 minutes per game, Randle found himself earning an All-Star appearance for the first time in his career and featuring as the team’s top player. However, once the postseason rolled around, the Atlanta Hawks knew shutting him down with the key to beating New York in the first round.

The Knicks made moves to improve their scoring efficiency:

The front office realized that Tom Thibodeau needed more scoring options, so they went out and landed Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker to replace key positions.

Fournier, who is capable of playing both shooting guard and small forward, averaged 17.1 points last season with Orlando and Boston. As a successful three-point specialist, averaging 41% last year, he provides much more than Reggie Bullock, who signed a three-year deal with the Dallas Mavericks.

Bullock featured as more of a catch and shoot expert, while Fournier demands defensive attention and can create shots on his own. That takes a tremendous amount of pressure off Julius Randle, who was expected to be the Knicks’ top shot creator and scorer last season, which he did successfully until he faced a more physically imposing team in Atlanta.

Replacing Elfrid Payton with Kemba Walker also contributes significantly, as Payton averaged 10.1 points on 23.6 minutes per game last year. As a terrible three-point shooter, hitting on 28.6% of the shots, Walker offers a major upgrade. Playing in 43 games due to a lingering knee issue, Walker averaged 31.8 minutes per game. He doubled Payton’s scoring production, putting up 19.3 points per night, 4.9 assists, and shot 36% from range over 8.2 attempts per game.

A combination of Fournier and Walker will draw more attention away from defenders, allowing Julius to feature in more isolation scenarios. Also, Randle’s career-high 6.0 assists last year should continue to increase.

Having options with high three-point shooting percentages will give Randle more comfort in spreading the ball around the floor. Despite landing a fresh four-year, $117 million deal, the All-Star has already been working diligently on improving his game this off-season. The Knicks did everything they could to help spur continuity while adding playmakers to help Randle take his game to the next level. Proving his worth during the postseason is the next step in his progression.

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