Knicks forward Julius Randle Credit: Bill Moore photo

Knicks forward Julius Randle didn’t win the NBA Eastern Conference Player of the Month award for December. That honor went to Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid. But for the Knicks, Randle was invaluable. 

He had perhaps the best month of his progressively improved nine-year career in averaging 28.3 points on 47.8% shooting and 11.4 rebounds, logging 37.1 minutes over 15 games. The Knicks went 9–6 and played the final three games of 2022, going 1–2, without point guard Jalen Brunson and forward RJ Barrett, their second- and third-leading scorers. Barrett was in for only 2 minutes versus the Dallas Mavericks on December 27 before suffering a lacerated finger on his right hand.

The 28-year-Randle began the new year with what has become routine, posting 28 points, 16 rebounds and six assists in a 102–83 drubbing of the Phoenix Suns at Madison Square Garden on Monday. Heading into the Knicks game versus the San Antonio Spurs last night (Wednesday, Jan. 4) at MSG, Randle was averaging 24.2 points and 9.9 rebounds, both team highs, and was well on his way to a second All-Star Game selection, his first coming two seasons ago. 

He has been central to the Knicks staying near or above .500—they were 20–18 before hosting the Spurs—and staying in playoff and Play-In Tournament position as they approach the midpoint of their regular season schedule.

Randle’s relationship with Knicks fans has been uneven. They have at times showered him with adulation and conversely called for the Knicks’ front office to trade him. He came to New York as a free agent in the summer of 2019 as a Plan B for then-Knicks president Steve Mills after the franchise whiffed on luring Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to the Garden. Both signed with the Nets.

The team went 21–45 in his first season as a Knick under turmoil as Mills and owner James Dolan canned former head coach David Fizdale in December of 2019 after a 4–18 start. Fizdale was replaced by assistant Mike Miller. Mills was terminated before the NBA trade deadline two months later and Leon Rose was subsequently hired as the new Knicks president. 

Randle reflected the organization’s instability with inconsistent play despite good numbers on paper. Trying to take on the role of a franchise player, Randle labored, putting up 19.5 points and 9.7 rebounds, but unable to elevate the Knicks in the standings. In 2020–’21, current head coach Tom Thibodeau’s first season with the Knicks, Randle flourished, making his first All-Star Game appearance, registering 24 points and 10 rebounds, and driving the team to a 41–31 record and No. 4 seed in the East before they were disappointingly eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Atlanta Hawks. 

Last season, the Knicks had a precipitous decline, ending it 37–45, and Randle’s frustrations were overt. In a game in January in which the Knicks overcame a 25-point deficit to defeat the Boston Celtics 108-105, he gave the Garden crowd, which had been booing the team before the comeback, a thumbs down gesture. He later explained it meant “shut the f–k up!” 

After the fans showered Randle with chants of “M-V-P” during the game against the Suns on Monday, he said, “It’s good to be on the good side of the Garden.” In reference to the incident last January, Randle jokingly had a case of selective amnesia. 

“I don’t even remember that, that happend? Stop bringing up old sh*t.” 

The Knicks will be in Toronto tomorrow to take on the Raptors, back home Monday to play the Milwaukee Bucks and at the Garden again on Wednesday to meet the Indiana Pacers.

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