The Knicks Can't Afford to Have Julius Randle Choke Like This

Julius Randle
Julius Randle / Pool/Getty Images

The New York Knicks are down 2-1 in their first round playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks. After splitting the first two matchups at Madison Square Garden, New York was unable to come into Atlanta and put a stop to Trae Young, who finished with 21 points and 14 assists in a 105-94 win. The Knicks did not play well at all and the only player who can feel good about Friday night was Derrick Rose, putting up 30 points on 13-of-21 shooting.

The most notable aspect of this Knicks loss was the continued struggles of Julius Randle. The NBA's 2021 Most Improved Player has been entirely unable to carry over his regular season excellence to postseason play. Last night, in a massive game for his team, Randle only mustered all of 14 points on 2-of-15 shooting and 11 rebounds with two assists. It was just another brutal showing in a postseason full of them for Randle, who has yet to score more than 15 points in any game of this opening series and his shooting percentages looked just as ugly in the first two games of the series.

And New York just can't afford that if they want their surprising postseason run to go further than one series. The Knicks did pull out a win in Game 2 despite Randle scoring 15 points on 16 shot attempts, but that's the exception more than the rule. They need Randle to produce, and to do so efficiently, to win this series.

Unfortunately, it's hard to overstate just how bad he's been. Randle has made 13 shots in three games. He has attempted 54. The Knicks rely on him to be the wing who can create his own shot in the halfcourt. They need him to do that because without that element, the offense becomes predictable. It turns into Rose pick-and-rolls with no variation and ultimately they need to get lucky to win games when that's their primary form of offense. When Randle is off, the Knicks need RJ Barrett or Alec Burkes or Reggie Bullock to be absolutely on fire. If it's only Rose and a few timely shots from the supporting cast, there just isn't enough production.

Whether it's been the sticky defense of De'Andre Hunter or the bright lights of the playoffs or simpply the fact that the Hawks have figured him out, Randle hasn't been able to score at anywhere near the rate he did during the regular season. Even worse, his importance to the offense as a whole means Tom Thibodeau is going to keep feeding him the ball to get him going. It hasn't worked so far and the ripple effects have been devastating in two of three games. When Randle is a black hole on offense it changes the complexion of the entire game.

It would be more fun for neutral observers if he found his groove. It's nearly inexplicable for those of us who remember Randle's title run at Kentucky to watch the big forward drain catch-and-shoot threes and hit stepback jumpers with regularity. That was never his bread and butter. And yet there he was, doing just that against some of the best defenders in the league all season.

Randle hasn't gotten it done when it matters most. But he still has a chance to bounce back. Knicks faithful dearly hopes he can, because without a steady Randle, this team is not long for playoff basketball.