For the first time in... a long time, the New York Knicks are a fun basketball team to watch and their fans actually have a glimmer of hope. Tom Thibodeau has come in and inspired his new team to play defense. The young guns like R.J. Barrett, Immanuel Quickley, and Obi Toppin are getting their minutes, making their mistakes, and showing flashes of NBA-level play. The Knicks are currently the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference at 14-15 on the year.
Not all is perfect. Thibs still has his old habits of vastly preferring veterans to young players in crunch time, and since the Knicks aren't winning anything this year it would be better if Quickley were starting rather than Elfrid Payton. One undeniable bright spot, however, has been the play of Julius Randle.
Randle signed a three-year, $62 million deal with the Knicks last offseason, cashing in after a stellar season in New Orleans. He was not signed with the expectation that he would lead the team to the playoffs, but rather he would be exciting enough to put butts in seats. No seats are being filled for reasons outside of Randle's control, but he has been the most fun part of this team.
Last night, Randle dropped a 40-burger against the Atlanta Hawks. He had 44 points on 14-of-22 shooting, including a career-high seven makes from three-point land. The highlights below are the most fun anyone has had playing Knicks basketball since Carmelo Anthony's last good Knicks team in 2013.
Nobody knew what kind of player Randle would become when he was drafted No. 5 overall by the Los Angeles Lakers in 2013. Now he is a whirlwind of an offensive force, a small forward who makes up for the lack of size with a combination of physicality and quickness that few other players have. He still careens down the floor with the same sense of reckless abandon that he came into the league with, but now he has the touch around the basket to finish instead of tumbling to the court in a bundle of limbs as the ball goes flying out of bounds.
It's all coming together, and Randle is making a serious case for All-Star consideration. He's averaging 23 points and 11 rebounds per game while shooting 47 percent from the field. Last night was his best statistical output of the season, but Randle has been consistently scoring in the mid-to-high 20s for most of the season. He is deserving of a chance to demonstrate that scoring prowess in the All-Star Game.
Can Randle become the first Knick to attend the event since Kristaps Porzingis in 2017-18? Here's how the voting looked to be shaking out last week.
Fan voting is only a small part of the All-Star selection, but looking at the numbers is a good way to get a baseline of a player's chances. Randle isn't beating out the top five frontcourt options in the East. But with a few more performances nearly as good as what he did last night, and Randle could climb above the Domantas Sabonis-Bam Adebayo pairing to sneak in as one of the final selections in the East.
Randle a statistically-successful player on a team that has won a good amount of games and he's extremely entertaining to watch. He is a unique player in the NBA, scoring through his willingness to emulate a bowling ball barreling down the lane rather than with step-back jumpers and a silky-smooth shot. Everyone in the league is scoring at a pace never before seen in NBA history, but Randle is doing it his own way, and that's what something like the All-Star game is all about: showcasing the variety of play.
Whether having the All-Star Game is a good idea is another discussion entirely. But the NBA seems set on holding the event, so Randle should enjoy a selection. He's fun and that's all that matters, really.