With four games left, a tough stretch at that, the New York Knicks have clinched a winning record for the first time in eight seasons. But the job’s not finished.
Job’s not finished… that’s what Julius Randle’s mentor, Kobe Bryant, said many years ago when the Lakers were up 2-0 in the 2009 NBA Finals.
The context of the two events are clearly much different, but Randle knows the Knicks are not out of the woods yet. And that’s what makes his MVP candidacy so evident.
Last season, many fans were disappointed by Randle’s inability to execute the right play, especially when he was spinning into triple teams every other possession, thus turning the ball over.
“The Human Beyblade” circulated throughout the Knicks’ following, and there were even people calling for him to be traded as soon as physically possible.
We know now this would have been a huge mistake. But no one saw it coming.
Randle was down and out, it felt as though being the marquee free agent signing of 2019, he was a train wreck. But as we all have heard this season, a single dinner changed the course of the Knicks, and Randle’s, future.
The signings of Leon Rose, World Wide Wes, Tom Thibodeau, and maybe most notably, Kenny Payne, have clearly paid dividends this season. That’s not to discredit Randle’s efforts to become a better player himself, which he most certainly has accomplished.
But it seems for the first time in what feels like centuries, the Knicks’ front office made the initial positive impact on progressing the Knicks toward a winning environment; Randle is just the diamond in the rough that has shined the most.
Aside from the easy to find statistical evolution, Randle has been a chart topper in a lot of the league’s metrics, and in good company too. For starters, we can still acknowledge Randle’s career-high 24.1 points, 5.9 assists, and 41.7% from 3PT per game this season.
He opened his role from interior scorer and muscle to becoming a jack of all trades forward.
Despite some of the weird contested mid-range shots he takes, Randle’s efficiency and ability to score pale in comparison to previous seasons, which is one of the biggest takeaways for Knicks fans.
He’s earned honors as Player of the Week and Player of the Month, and is the favorite to receive the Most Improved Player award come season’s end. Randle was at the forefront of the Knicks’ recent nine-game winning streak, their longest in seven seasons. He earned his first All-Star appearance this season; voted in by the coaches as a reserve (that’s how you know his impact is being acknowledge).
Per Basketball Reference, he’s 16th in Win Shares, 12th in Defensive Rating, and 2nd in Defensive Win Shares behind only Rudy Gobert. His evolution into a serviceable defender only aids his case.
The 180-degree flip Randle was able to do becomes more evident every game, and it’s deserving of the praise he’s gotten, ironically, from mainstream sports media in the past few months.
Nikola Jokic is, admirably, the favorite to receive the MVP award. After all, the Nuggets have constantly been a threat, he leads the league in PER, and he’s just a generally good player for this league — albeit, I do feel he throws his body around a bit too much at times.
Guys like Antetokounmpo, Paul, Lillard all have more going in their favor at the moment, the MVP tracker has made that clear, but I still feel Randle should be looked at more regarding this award.
I get it, asking for too much recognition is a selfish quality, considering Randle is already in line to receive the MIP accolade.
But for a Top-4 seeded player to be held out of the ladder feels rude.
At the end of the day, I’m happy about what Randle has given this team in general.
I loved him in Kentucky, and when I found out there was a prospect of him joining my favorite NBA team, I naturally expected the best from him. Even after having my heart broken, and disappointment filling my being, Randle embraced the criticism and turned himself into a Knicks basketball icon for years to come.
Which brings me to my concluding discussion of Randle’s future within the organization. Winning an MVP, MIP, and being an All-Star are all great incentive boosters for his contract, which hangs in the balance here.
He has a partially guaranteed team option next season, but the chance to earn a lot of money in an extension. How the front office manages the negotiation is still up for debate, but the general consensus may end up being extend Randle as soon as possible, which isn’t the worst idea.
Even if he isn’t the league MVP, he’s our MVP, and he deserves to be treated as such.
Like he said in his Players’ Tribune article, “I’m damn proud to be a Knick.” So let’s keep it that way.