Schmeelk: The Knicks Desperately Need To Fix Julius Randle

John Schmeelk
November 05, 2019 - 9:28 am
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Leftover candy and some rotting pumpkins are all that’s left of Halloween, except in Madison Square Garden where a permanent horror show seems to have set up shop. The Knicks’ offense is gruesome. Many of the players probably wanted to leave wearing masks after the team’s 113-92 loss on Sunday night to the Sacramento Kings. 

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The Knicks are bad, which should not be a surprise. The unwatchable level to which their offense has sunk, however, is something out of grindhouse horror movies. 

99.6 Offensive rating (third worst in NBA)

41.6% Shooting from the field (third worst in the NBA)

99.6 Points per game (second worst in NBA)

66.8% Free throw percentage (worst in NBA)

53.4% Assist percentage (fourth worst in NBA)

51% True shooting (second worst in NBA)

47.6% Effective field goal percentage (second worst in NBA)

99.93 Pace (second worst in NBA) 

Julius Randle
USA TODAY Images

They are one of the four worst offensive teams in the league in nearly every offensive metric. The team is ranked 18th in 3PT% but they shoot only 30.1 threes a game, which is the seventh-fewest in the league. After a terrible start to the year, they’ve managed to creep up to 18th in turnovers per game. Their 29.5% offensive rebound percentage ranks fourth in the league, which is keeping the team afloat offensively.

There are countless people to blame for these struggles, from the general manager to the head coach, and of course to the players. When a team can’t shoot, plays slowly, doesn’t move the ball, and can’t make free throws, no one should escape blame. 

There is one person that can make things better faster than anyone else: Julius Randle. The Knicks made Randle their top free agent this offseason for the simple reason that he could score efficiently and in volume. He has not delivered. 

Randle is having the worst season of his career. His 41.8% field goal percentage would be the worst of his career (not counting his one-game rookie season). His 4.1 turnovers per game would be the worst of his career. After shooting a career-best 34% from behind the arc last season, he is 1-18 so far this season. Nothing has gone right. 

In Randle’s defense, being a number one option is something he has never been asked to do before. 

Even after Anthony Davis’ trade demand diminished his playing time last season, Jrue Holiday was still there to run the offense. Randle was a finisher but much less of an initiator. For the first time in his career, Randle is having an offense run through him, with all the responsibility that comes along with it. 

The NBA tracks where Randle’s shots come from within the offense. There isn’t much of a difference this season when compared to his career year last season. His post-ups (16.8% frequency vs 16.3%), isolations (13.7% frequency vs 12.2%), and transitions (16% frequency vs 17.5%) are nearly identical. He even has more put-back opportunities and fewer spot-up jumpers. His number of cuts and times used as a roll man on screen and rolls are down (which were efficient shots for him last year) but that isn’t significant enough to explain such a huge drop in overall efficiency. 

When you explore his shooting ranges on basketball-reference.com, he is taking longer jump shots more often, but the differences are small. His shot profile reflects a player that is used more as the primary option, which is to be expected. 

The difference is how Randle is finishing. He averaged .95 points per isolation last year (68th percentile) but is averaging just .44 (24th percentile) this season. He averaged 1.02 per spot-up jumper last year (60th percentile). This season, it is down to .39 (3rd percentile!!!). He is even finishing his put-backs and post-ups at much lower rates. 

Some of those dips, and his increased turnovers, can be explained by the increased frequency of double-teams he is facing. Randle has never seen this much attention and he is figuring out how to react to it. It is a learning process to figure when he can attack and finish through double-teams, and when he can pass. His career-high 4.6 assists per game show he is trying. 

The learning process will take some time, and Randle needs to continue to improve his decision making as he faces double-teams, because that’s not going to stop. The Knicks’ inability to spread the floor and their lack of ball movement is going to hurt Randle’s efficiency. It is on David Fizdale to figure that out. 

It’s on Randle to start hitting more shots. More than anything else that’s the source of his problems, and a big source of the Knicks issues, is that his jump shot is not going in. According to basketball-reference, even from sixteen feet out to the three-point line, he is only shooting 16.7%, about half of his percentage from there last season. Combine that with his 1-18 from three, and it is easy to see how he has found it hard to score efficiently. Even around the basket, his shooting percentage is down nearly 10% from last season.

Perhaps a trip to the bench for a few games would help? Would playing against back-ups give him a better opportunity to gain confidence and score some easy baskets? Maybe. It would separate him from Marcus Morris, which is not a combination that seems to be working given they want to operate offensively from similar areas. At this point, it is worth a try. 

Randle is one of the only Knicks that can be relied on to create his own shot and shots for others. The Knicks need him to be that guy. The Knicks need him to be better, or they might just be as bad as they were last season. 

You can follow John on Twitter (@Schmeelk) for everything about the Knicks, Giants and the world of sports. You can also check out “The Bank Shot," his Knicks podcast, on most popular podcast platforms. You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts here.

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