Schmeelk: Knicks Need To Change How They Use Julius Randle

His Talents Aren't Being Utilized To Their Full Potential

John Schmeelk
November 26, 2019 - 1:19 pm

The old cliched definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. This is where the Knicks are with Julius Randle. David Fizdale keeps using him the same way. Randle keeps playing the same way. Aside from a blip against the Cavaliers, nothing is changing and it’s not good. Something has to give. 

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This is not a matter of the team still getting to know one another. This is not a chemistry issue. Unless Randle makes some kind of personal adjustment that makes a lot more of his shots go in and a lot fewer of his passes go to the opposing team, history is going to continue to repeat itself. 

Julius Randle is a very talented basketball player, but he has not been able to utilize those talents to play winning basketball. He struggles to understand what a good shot is and what isn’t. His shots very seldom come in the flow of the offense, but rather on isolation plays. He shoots low-percentage shots early in the shot clock. He has very little feel for the game and what a good basketball play looks like.

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The Knicks’ desire to bring Randle in this offseason was understandable. They were a team that lacked players that could score efficiently and create their own shot. Randle averaged 21 points per game last season with a 60% true shooting percentage. The year before he scored 16 points per game with nearly identical efficiency. 

His scoring efficiency was so rare that he was only one of seven NBA players last season to score 20 or more points with a True-Shooting percentage of 60% or higher. Who were the others? It is a pretty impressive list: Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Karl-Anthony Towns.

If a player can score in volume at that high of efficiency, it makes it much easier to swallow the obvious flaws. Randle was a bit of a ball-hog last season, with his focus on getting his own shot. Despite possessing passing ability, he has never been a good decision-maker. His defense has always been suspect. 

The problem is that Randle has shown up this season with all those flaws on full display but without the efficient scoring. His true shooting percentage is down nearly ten points to 50.5%, with his raw shooting numbers a pedestrian .444/.262/.613. Randle is also shooting two fewer free throws per game than he did last season. Some of those numbers, especially the three-point and free-throw shooting should tick up, but the two-point shooting is the real problem. 

Randle’s issues have everything to do with his shot selection and how he is being used by David Fizdale. The issues are easy to see when you look at Basketball Reference’s shooting chart that shows where his shots are coming from and how often he is making them.

10% fewer of his shots are coming inside the restricted area when compared to last year, and 20% fewer than two years ago. On those shots, he is shooting 10% worse than two seasons ago, and 6% worse than last year. He’s also shooting fewer shots from within ten feet of the hoop. Those shots have turned into mid-range shots and threes. They are never going to lead to efficient scoring, especially when Randle is not hitting his threes at a high rate. 

The other telling number on that chart is the percent of his two points shots that are assisted. This year, a career-low 32.2% of his two-pointers have come off of someone else’s assist. It’s a drop of 17% off his career average. It is all the evidence anyone should need that he is being asked to do too much on his own as an initiator of the offense. It has not worked. 

This is where Fizdale has to make his adjustment. Randle is being used as the roll man on pick and rolls and as an off-ball cutter too seldom. When Randle does set screens on the ball, he too often glides out to the three-point line rather than diving to the hoop. Until Randle proves he can be someone you can run an offense through, he needs to be used as a finisher rather than an initiator. 

It doesn’t help that the Knicks lack a true high-level playmaking point guard, but Frank Ntilikina has proven an adept pick and roll passer, while Dennis Smith has gotten Mitchell Robinson involved with the second unit. It needs to be tired because the way the team is using him now isn’t working. The Knicks are actually a better offensive team when he is on the bench so far this season. 

Fizdale could also try moving Randle to the second unit where he can regain some confidence going against other teams’ backups. Fizdale can easily insert Mitchell Robinson and Damyean Dotson or Wayne Ellington into the starting lineup, and move Gibson and Randle to the second group. It would still leave the first and second units with a good mix of shooting and shot creation.

Something needs to change. Randle needs to shoot better and alter the types of shots he is taking. Fizdale needs to change how he is using him. Until those things happen, Randle will continue to play poorly, his acquisition will look like a mistake, and the team will keep losing games. The Knicks need his efficient scoring. They just need to figure out a way to get it out of him.

You can follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants and the world of sports. You can also check out “The Bank Shot,” his Knicks podcast, on most popular podcast platforms.