Julius Randle’s emotionally charged and fluid relationship with Knicks fans has the latter already calling for extreme actions only 11 games into this season.
Although head coach Tom Thibodeau’s squad was an even 5-5 before playing the second of an eight-day, five-game road trip last night (Wednesday) against the Atlanta Hawks, and Randle was posting 18 points per game and 10.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists per outing—solid numbers and close to or exceeding his career averages—Knicks faithful are blowing up social media platforms with grating criticism and analysis of Randle’s early season performance.
Despite being a two-time All-Star (2021, 2023) and All-NBA (2021, 2023) player in his fifth year with the franchise after signing as a free-agent in the summer of 2019, the veteran power forward is a constant target of criticism.
Randle has not shot efficiently and was at 34%, and an ice cold 26% on three-point attempts over the Knicks’ first 10 games heading into last night. Isolated defensive lapses and evident mental errors seemingly associated with frustration have helped drive fans’ ambivalent or downright disapproving feelings on who Randle is and will be as the season moves along.
Unfair expectations are prevalent in shaping viewpoints. Although he has embraced the strenuous challenge of being a force multiplier, Randle isn’t a franchise carrying figure comparable to Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic, or (earlier in his career) LeBron James. But many Knicks fans persist in unrealistically holding him to that standard and scrutinize Randle based on that perspective.
The Dallas native and All-American at Kentucky under coach John Calipari first drew an angry, biting tongue lashing from the Garden crowd when he gave them a dismissive thumbs down and suggested they “shut the f^*k up,” during a game at MSG back on January 6, 2022.
It was a reaction to the team being loudly jeered after falling behind 24 points to the Boston Celtics before mounting a 108-105 comeback victory. Many of the expansive Knicks fan base took it personally and have held onto it like a family heirloom. So for some, calling for the Knicks to trade Randle is a rite of passage.
Last Friday, Randle explained why he had come out of the gate erratically.
“I told you guys from the beginning it was a process,” he said at the Knicks’ practice facility in Tarrytown in Westchester County.
“I had [ankle] surgery four-and-a-half months ago [in June] and it’s a lower extremity surgery. So to think that I would come into this season and be Julius off the bat is kinda naive,” he said at Knicks practice on Friday.
“I knew from the beginning it was gonna be a process. It’s a gradual buildup. I’m starting to get better, but it’s a gradual buildup.”
Thibodeau said he was uncertain how Randle would begin the new campaign following the summer surgery and rehab.
“I wasn’t sure what we were going to get,” he noted last week. “I knew whatever we were going to get was all that he had.”
Randle scored 25 points on 7-19 shooting and 9-11 from the foul line with 9 rebounds in a 114-98 loss to the Celtics on Monday to open the current road trip. The Knicks will play the Washington Wizards tomorrow in the second of their four Eastern Conference Group B NBA In-Season Tournament games in which they are 0-1.
They will take on the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday and the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday to end the trip.