Let's rewind to the 2019-20 NBA season. The New York Knicks finish the year with a paltry 21-45 record (if you're doing the math and saying that doesn't add up to 82 games, that's because Covid-19 shortened the season). That miserable record was good for 12th spot in the Eastern Conference and, deservedly so, no invite to compete for a playoff spot in the Disney bubble games.
Fast forward to this season, where the Knicks sit at 7th in the East with a 14-16 record. Sure it's nothing to write home about, but hear me out; the Knicks are actually watchable again, when's the last time you could say that? There was the Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony experiment that certainly looked flashy on paper but other than a first round playoff victory in 2013 over the Celtics, never really translated to winning basketball. Heck, I'll even go so far as to say that this year's team is not just watchable, but actually fun to watch! That is thanks in large part to one man – Julius Randle.
Randle is averaging career highs during the 2020-21 campaign, almost across the board: points (23.2), rebounds (10.9), assists (5.5) and 3-point percentage (40.7), a tremendous improvement on his 28 % career average from behind the arc.
Diving deeper into advanced statistics, Randle is 7th among power forwards in Real Plus Minus, which measures a player's on-court impact on team performances and is measured in net point differential per 100 defensive and offensive positions.
In terms of Real Plus Minus "Wins," which provides an estimate of the number of wins each player has contributed to his teams win total on the season, he sits second at 3.11, behind only last year's MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Statistics aside, Randle has made a gigantic leap in terms of his basketball IQ and intangibles. Some of the biggest knocks on him early in his career were that he relied too heavily on bullying his way to the basket, lacked an outside jumper and would sometimes play out of control. He has put those narratives to bed this year relying on more midrange and 3-point jump shots and getting his teammates involved every night with some silky smooth passes. And if all else fails he isn't afraid to put somebody on a poster.
This is not to discount the rest of the members of the Knicks' roster by any means. Rookies Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin have looked very good when given opportunities, Mitchell Robinson has been a force down low and RJ Barrett is having a solid sophomore campaign. Coach Tom Thibodeau has brought a hard-nosed, defensive-minded attitude to the team as well.
But ultimately the straw that stirs this team's drink is Mr.Randle. Do I think the Knicks are a team that can make a deep playoff run? no, not just yet. But it is great for the game to have excitement and buzz swirling around the team that plays in Madison Square Garden, the mecca of the basketball world.
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