It’s been evident through Julius Randle’s efficiency in the small sample of six games counting preseason, and at least one of his teammates noticed the positive transformation.
“His approach has been totally different,” Derrick Rose said. “The way he’s reading the floor is totally different. His passing has been unbelievable. Understanding that we want to get up a certain amount of 3s and he’s finding the shooters. I can’t complain. He’s been playing great.”
Randle’s partnership with the Knicks fanbase was, to put it mildly, frayed last season. Some of the animosity was unfair and built around the hype over Randle’s replacement, Obi Toppin. But Randle handled it poorly and it bled into his effort and leadership.
There was the thumbs-down gesture. Then the media boycott. The unfounded rumors of a trade request. We don’t need to relive the entire saga.
A big part of the issue was Randle shouldering himself with too much of the offense, too many playmaking duties. He carried a role like LeBron James without being LeBron James. Randle devolved into a ballstopper with a cringy turnover-to-assist ratio.
As the Knicks regrouped in the summer with their new point guard Jalen Brunson, there were questions about Randle’s ego standing in the way of a lesser role. After all, it’s natural for a recent All-NBA selection to resist giving up the ball.
But the early returns are highly positive, even if, as Friday night’s victory over the Pistons demonstrated, the Toppin conundrum isn’t going anywhere.
Through 154 minutes in preseason and the regular season, Randle totaled just six turnovers with 23 assists. The Knicks have promised a new strategy of playing faster and scoring more points, as last season’s slowest squad tries to align with the modern-day NBA tempo.
“I think we can go another level, for sure,” Randle said. “We’re definitely playing at a quicker pace. This is something we practiced from the very beginning of training camp. I think it’s a fun brand of basketball that we’re all enjoying.”
Randle reiterated that his personal transformation was purposeful.
“Watching the playoffs last year and reflecting over the season. Just seeing how the game is transitioning —
there’s a lot more ball movement, cutting, just body movement,” he said.
Of course, it’s easier to play fast and efficient against the rebuilding Pistons. The Knicks have another low-level opponent Monday night with the Orlando Magic (0-3).
The harder tests come later in the week with Milwaukee, Cleveland and Philadelphia.
It’s a homecoming for two of the top New York City prospects of the last decade.
Cole Anthony, a Queens product, and Mo Bamba, a Harlem native, face the Knicks on Monday night as members of the Orlando Magic. Anthony, who attended Archbishop Molloy, missed the season’s first game with an illness and averaged 19.5 points in the next two.
He’s been a confident scorer in the NBA but inefficient at under 40% shooting his first two seasons.
Bamba, who played AAU for the PSA Cardinals, has largely disappointed since getting drafted sixth overall by the Magic in 2018. He remained a reserve center after signing a two-year, $21 million deal in the summer with only the first season guaranteed.