Julius Randle is in the midst of one of the most drastic turnarounds in the NBA, earning an All-Star selection and even some slight MVP buzz after being seen as a liability in his first season with the Knicks.
Randle looks like a different player in his second year in New York, averaging 23.1 points per game and keeping the ball moving on offense, shown in his 5.5 assists per game compared to 3.1 last season. He has also become a weapon from downtown, shooting 41.2 percent from beyond the arc after hitting just 27.7 of his 3-point attempts last year.
So, what changed for Randle? He shared his thoughts in a piece for The Player’s Tribune on Thursday morning.
“[The Knicks] having that type of faith in me, it meant everything,” Randle said of the Knicks signing the 26-year-old to a three-year, $62.1 million contract prior to last season. “But it also left me with something to prove, you know? I had this whole new role now, and this whole new contract to live up to.”
Randle believes he put too much pressure on himself to be the No. 1 guy in New York after signing his big contract, which led to a tendency to try and create scoring chances for himself, causing the offense to stall during a 21-45 season for the Knicks.
“When the season rolled around, I think I just went out there with those types of thoughts running through my mind,” Randle said. “’They’re expecting you to get your 25-to-30 tonight. That’s your JOB. So go and do your job.’ Stuff like that. I’m not a selfish player. Never been a selfish player in my life. Always been about the team. But I had it in my head that for this team, in this situation, they were paying me a lot of money because they wanted me to get a lot of shots up. It didn’t turn out so well.”
After a rough introduction to New York, Randle went to work this past offseason to redefine his game, and it has paid off in the form of a 20.6 player efficiency rating compared to 17.5 last season. Randle took the offseason to work on his versatility, including developing that 3-point shot and, perhaps most importantly, working on how to make his young teammates around him better.
“I worked on expanding the range of my jumper, to stretch the floor from three like you’re seeing from a lot of elite bigs,” Randle said. “I worked on my playmaking and versatility, so that I could play more minutes at more spots on the court — power forward, point forward, center, whatever it takes…Maybe it sounds corny, but I worked on becoming the player I’ve always felt like I could be. My best self.”
The result? The Knicks are already approaching their win total from last season, and are hoping to lock up an improbable playoff berth in the second half of the season. So far, there’s little doubt as to who is the team’s MVP and catalyst for such a turnaround.
“We’re building something here, and I’m glad to be a part of it,” Randle said. “I’m grateful for the chance to make a second first impression. I’m damn proud to be a Knick.”
Follow Ryan Chichester on Twitter: @ryanchichester1