The New York Knicks are one of the best stories and basketball and Julius Randle is the lead man. The former No. 7 overall pick, on his third team in seven NBA seasons, is averaging 23.6 points, 10.6 rebounds, and 6.0 assists per game. He wrapped up his best three-game stretch of the season last night, scoring 44 points on 16-of-29 shooting to lead his team past the Dallas Mavericks. It came after Randle scored scored 34 against the Lakers and 32 against the Pelicans, both winning efforts.
It was a wonderful week of narrative excellence for Randle, an exclamation mark on a career year. He beat the team that drafted and subsequently traded him and the team that helped him become the player he is now, topped off by beating the forward he replaced in New York that nobody thought he could replace.
Kristaps Porzingis was supposed to be this kind of player, the star shining under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden. He certainly looked the part before tearing his ACL in his first All-Star season. When the Knicks traded him to Dallas in 2019, they were widely mocked, especially given they got almost nothing for him in return. At the time it looked bad and in hindsight it hasn't improved much; the most valuable asset the Knicks acquired is the Mavs' 2021 first-round pick, which will be somewhere in the high teens or early 20s. It was basically nothing for a guy who looked like a franchise centerpiece, even with the context of his knee injury and off-the-court issues that arose around the same time.
But the Knicks make that trade every time in retrospect because it helped them bring in Randle. He's been the MVP of this team this season and a pleasure to watch. Nobody expected the Knicks to do much this year. It was the first season under Tom Thibodeau and another fresh front office regime. Adjustment time is needed and even expected, especially given the team's struggles to return to relevancy after the departure of Carmelo Anthony. With a young team, it would have been a success if the Knicks managed to show some competency, regardless of wins. Instead they're firmly in the playoff picture-- largely due to Randle's play.
He is the hero that was promised, a harbinger for a new era of Knicks basketball that fans can enjoy. Randle isn't anything like Porzingis in any manner, a bowling ball of a player who developed an effective jumpshot and dominates the game with his athleticism rather than his length. He has embraced the city and his role on this team to great success.
The Knicks are fun again. Randle is leading the charge, putting up numbers nobody thought he could as recently as last year. And the season isn't over yet.