Knicks success minus Julius Randle not good in the long run

The Knicks survived Tuesday night. They hissed and they splashed for a while, but they survived. They jumped out to an early lead 10-0 at the LeBron-free Lakers. They took a 25-point lead and were probably another 8-2 run away from Frank Vogel who gave a sick and injured Anthony Davis last night.

The Lakers came back. Avery Bradley started making pictures like World B. Free. Russell Westbrook returned the clock to 2017. And while old friend Carmelo Anthony hit an icy spot with his shot (he shot 46.1 percent from 3 before this 2-for-8) he also hit home a knock with 1:26 left in the third that leveled the match to 79-79.

Still, Knicks won, 106-100. They are on part of their schedule when they need to collect winnings in every way they can, and there is no requirement in the NBA’s statutes to register with asterisks won due to the absence of a star. This was the second match in seven matches against probable play-off qualifiers.

“We gathered,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said, “and it ended well. That was what we needed to do.”

However, there was a strange part of that close-up. The Knicks never let the Lakers take the lead. And the Knicks played cards too: No Derrick Rose, no Taj Gibson, no Mitch Robinson. That meant for some makeup-as-they-went-along-rotations. In theory, this meant an extra long work shift for Julius Randle.

Julius Randle quarrels with a referee during the Knicks' 106-100 win over the Lakers.
Julius Randle quarrels with a referee during the Knicks’ 106-100 win over the Lakers.
NY Post: Charles Wenzelberg

In addition to being on a four-second stretch with just over nine minutes left in the game, Randle picked up two quick fouls that guarded his fellow Kentucky Wildcat ex-pat, Anthony Davis. It was his fourth and fifth offense. Randle went to the bench, not happy. Davis fired two ugly shots.

The Knicks led, 90-86. The garden’s antennas crackled. The downfall seemed imminent.

Except that a funny thing happened.

The Knicks ran out. Immanuel Quickley scored a pair of 3s. Alec Burks hit a shot and a couple of free throws. In less than four minutes, it was 15-7 sprint. It was a Knicks lead of 105-93. Everything with Randle on the bench. And one of the Lakers’ points actually came with the permission of Randle, after his foul problem frustration resulted in a technical foul.

OKAY. Let’s make a point here.

This does not mean that the Knicks are a better team but their best player. They are not. All you have to do is look at the entire boxing result that Randle put up on Tuesday – 20 points, 16 rebounds, five assists – to be reminded that he is still their most important player. That is a non-negotiable truth.

But here’s it: this was not the first time the Knicks have gathered in his absence this year.

Julius Randle drives past Carmelo Anthony during the Knicks' win.
Julius Randle drives past Carmelo Anthony during the Knicks’ win.
NY Post: Charles Wenzelberg

And that is a problem in the long run. Right now, it’s clear that Randle, some nights, is trying to shoulder every burden that the Knicks face. He has a new range of supporting players, and while Thibodeau recently called the “bulls” the notion that it sometimes takes time for players to give players, this is clearly not the case. It requires patience. Patience will be required.

Randle really believes that: “That takes time, bro. Once it starts to click, we will be a really, really good team.”

On Tuesday, we finally got a full insight into what Evan Fournier (26 points, 6-for-9 from 3) is capable of, and it was Randle who set him up for some of these open looks; it has not been easy to get the two on the same page. Same with Kemba Walker: sometimes he and Randle look like they’ve been playing together for a decade, and sometimes they look like they were introduced to the foreplay.

And look: this is not all about Randle. He has to adapt, of course, but so do the new faces. Both factions must make this work better than it has done. A year ago, Randle could assert himself every night as the undisputed alpha dog in the Knicks series because there was no one to challenge that role, at least until Rose came along.

Knicks was his creation, Thibodeau his co-author. The ball was constantly in his hands, the offensive went through him on every ball possession. It was brilliant most nights.

It’s still so in spasms. Just not as often. Not yet. The Knicks are not a better team without their best player, but they sometimes play better without him because they are not forced to trust him.

It must be developed. That needs to change. The Knicks are still capable of some amazing things this year. They will only go there in the company of Randle, not despite him.


Author: admin

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