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Knicks Preseason Profile: Julius Randle Seeks Another Breakout

Julius Randle was the toast of the town during the New York Knicks' run to the 2021 playoffs but failed to justify a massive extension last year. Does redemption await?

New York City is a town partly built on the success ... and perhaps subsequent downfalls ... of overnight sensations, ones emerging through both the immediate and long-form variety. 

Julius Randle was part of the sensation, repping the city's beloved hardwood pastime with the New York Knicks. Prior to his New York arrival, Randle proved serviceable over five seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers and New Orleans Pelicans, few thought his 2019 Manhattan arrival would move the needle, as he was seen as a consolation prize for missing out on Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, and Kyrie Irving. 

Randle responded with a career-best season in his second metropolitan campaign, earning All-Star and All-NBA recognition en route to not only the Eastern Conference's fourth seed but the Most Improved Player Award as well. For his efforts, Randle was also granted a four-year, $117 million extension. 

What's happened and what could happen since then?

2021-22 Season Review

On paper, Randle's numbers were more or less fine (leading the team at 20.1 points per game) but that was a four-point drop-off from the year prior. It was far from the only spot where Randle's game suffered, as his numbers fell in every nearly major statistical category (dropping nearly one full assist at 5.1 last year, and his field goal percentage sank from .456 to .411). Advanced efficiency stats were also not kind to Randle, but his struggles from deep were perhaps 

No one's been able to truly pin down the ultimate factor or culprit behind Randle's sudden fall from grace, which also included a series of five-figure fines from the NBA. Some pinned the blame on clashing philosophies between head coach Tom Thibodeau and assistant Kenny Payne. Team president Leon Rose hinted that the season took an understandable emotional toll on Randle, especially after a triumphant campaign on both a personal and team level. 

Things happened on the court, we saw some emotion coming out, saw some things happening. I think it affected his play at times," Rose said in an interview with MSG Network. "(He) was just not comfortable at times. It was just not being comfortable. He gave it his best effort. The three-point shot just didn’t go like last year, and you had teams keying on him more this year. At the end, he made some adjustments. I was proud of the fact he did fight through it.’’

The nadir came in January when Randle marred the Knicks' thrilling, RJ Barrett-induced comeback win over Boston. When Randle sank a fourth quarter basket, he greeted a series of legitimately excited cheers with a thumbs down, later clarifying his gesture was meant to tell fans to "shut the f*** up." He later penned an open letter to Knicks fans apologizing for the incident. 

To his credit, Randle, like several other struggling Knicks, was able to end the season on a relative high note, averaging 24.4 points in ten late games before a quad injury disrupted and later ended his season.

2022-23 Season Preview

With Kemba Walker gone, Randle is perhaps the face of the Knicks' 2021-22 struggles. His name frequently lingered in the Knicks' hypothetical trade discussions, moving on was probably never realistic, as the $117 million price tag attached to him takes effect this season. 

Payne has likewise moved on, having accepted the head coaching job at the University of Louisville. Some, in fact, theorized that Randle's late resurgence coincided with Payne's departure: the Knicks went 7-5 after he was introduced as the Cardinals' new boss on Mar. 18. 

In other words, Randle is relatively low on excuses for the coming season, but he's embracing such a mindset. In addition to fixing the struggles on the statsheet, Randle has also expressed a desire to buy into the fast sets desired by Thibodeau and to do more without the ball. 

“I want to be able to adjust and play faster, play on and off the ball,” Randle said as the Knicks gathered for the year. “For me, being in shape is always number one, so I take pride in that and every year I try to go back and look at how and adjust how I can be better and play faster and quicker basketball. Be efficient."

For better or worse, the Knicks and Randle are conjoined for the near future. How Randle responds could determine not only his own career path but this latest chapter of the seemingly eternal Knicks rebuild. 

Knicks Preseason Profiles

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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