With evidence to suggest he’s willing to play a secondary role, Julius Randle shrugged off the idea that it required an ego adjustment.
“It’s basketball, man,” Randle said. “It’s as simple as that. It’s basketball.”
There was skepticism Randle would adjust to life off the ball after the acquisition of Jalen Brunson, but the All-Star has given it a fair shot to start this season.
As Randle described the difference, “Just playing off the ball more.”
Tom Thibodeau said he discussed the new role with Randle after last season’s struggle, when the 28-year-old was swarmed by defenses and reacted with poor shooting and emotional frustration.
“We just talked and it wasn’t like he had a terrible year,” Thibodeau said. “It’s just that he had to work so hard for everything. So, like, let’s use the different things you can do, so they’re not locked into you. If you’re holding the ball and they’re locked in, now they come to double team, it’s tough to play a game like that.
“He’s such a great athlete, no one wants to see him going downhill, catching it on the run, playing off the ball, running the floor, doing all the different things he can do. I think he’s embraced it. Sometimes, it’s just taking a step back and looking at it, ‘OK,’ when you look at the best players in this league, it’s what they do oftentimes when they get off the ball. If you’re getting double-teamed when you get off of it, don’t stand, move. And I think he’s done that, and it’s created easy scoring opportunities for him.”
Randle is indeed shooting better at 47% heading into Friday night’s matchup against the Blazers, but his assists were down significantly (from 5.1 per game last season to 3.0). It’s a product of operating without the ball as Brunson and RJ Barrett take more control of the halfcourt offense.
“We knew we wanted to try to move him around more, because we felt like teams were locked into him and he was working so hard to score,” Thibodeau said. “So I just think trying to use his versatility to create easy scoring opportunities for him, so sometimes the ball is in his hands, sometimes it’s off his hands, sometimes it’s him screening.
“I like him running the floor. I think getting him easy baskets, where he doesn’t have to work where everybody is locked onto him, has been helpful and I think he’ll continue to get better. "
A consequence of this strategy, whether intended or not, is boosting Randle’s trade value. He’s viewed around the league as more of a third or fourth option, rather than the ball-dominant version of his All-NBA campaign of 2020-21.
It’s something to keep in mind and as the Knicks search for an identity.