Tom Thibodeau Issues Statement on Julius Randle After Knicks Clinch Playoffs

Julius Randle, New York Knicks

Getty Julius Randle of the New York Knicks speaks with a referee after a call during the first quarter of the game against the Brooklyn Nets.

For the second time in three seasons, the New York Knicks have punched their ticket to the NBA postseason. Following a triumphant win over the Washington Wizards Sunday evening, the Knickerbockers guaranteed themselves a top-six seed in the Eastern Conference standings come the conclusion of 2022-23.

Though not having All-Star big man Julius Randle in tow for the next several weeks is tough, since sustaining his unfortunate ankle injury back on March 29 New York has gone undefeated while third-year big man Obi Toppin has been effectively holding down the fort at the four in his absence.

Following their postseason-clinching win over Washington, Tom Thibodeau was asked if there’s anything he “can learn” from his lineups consisting of Toppin, particularly when it comes to the increased pace of their play. In response, the Knicks head coach noted that while it’s obvious the team functions differently, he’d still prefer to have a healthy Randle in the mix.

“Well, Julius can play fast too, and he has,” Thibodeau said. “I’d rather be at full strength but when somebody’s out you’re going to play differently…To be successful in the playoffs…you need easy baskets but you also need execution in the half-court, you have to have guys who can go off the dribble, you have to have guys who can play [with their] back to the basket, you have to have a pick and roll game…So, you have to have a balance of it all.”

Tying Jalen Brunson for the highest plus-minus rating on the night, the Knicks big posted a tremendous all-around stat line of 21 points, 4 assists, 1 rebound, 2 steals, and 1 block on 60.0% shooting from the field and 37.5% shooting from distance.

Obi Toppin Says Knicks Need to Keep Winning

Despite guaranteeing themselves a playoff berth with their win over the Wizards, during a post-game media session Obi Toppin stated that there’s still something for the Knicks to play for during these final days of the regular season.

“It feels good [to clinch a playoff spot], but we’ve still got to win a couple more. Got a couple more ahead of us and we need to clinch the fifth spot,” Toppin said.

As things currently stand, the Knicks hold a three-win edge over the Brooklyn Nets in the race for the fifth seed, while New York trails the fourth-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers by just two wins.

One more win would all but secure the club’s standing as the fifth spot out east, while a string of losses for the Cavs coupled with a few consecutive wins by New York could see Tom Thibodeau’s club rise in the ranks to secure home-court advantage for at least round one of the postseason.

While it goes without saying that having Julius Randle would be a much better situation than not having him as New York heads into the playoffs, Obi Toppin has always managed to shine when slotting into the first five lineup, and his second start of the season was executed in a miraculous fashion.

For his career, Toppin holds a record of 12-10 as a starter and has won five of his last six whilst serving in such a role.

Josh Hart Could Be Pryed Away From Knicks This Summer

Though all is merry and bright for the Knicks after having just earned their second playoff berth in three seasons, Bleacher Report’s Dan Favale is already look ahead to the summer where, in his eyes, things could prove to be rather gloomy.

In a recent piece discussing every NBA team’s toughest 2023 free agency decision, Josh Hart’s impending availability on the open market was discussed, as it could prove to be rather competitive when it comes to teams vying for his services, and, in the article, Favale noted that desperate teams could wind up pricing the veteran out of New York.

“Retaining him turns into more of a thinker if over-the-top bids come out of the woodwork,” Favale wrote. “Cap-space squads like Detroit, Houston, Indiana, Orlando, and Utah all have minutes to fill across the 2-3-4 spots, and unlike San Antonio, none of them are inextricably married to multiyear designer downturns.”

Acquired prior to the February 9 trade deadline in a deal with the Portland Trail Blazers, Hart has quickly established himself as one of the leaders for this surging Knicks team.

Heading into Sunday’s matchup, the 28-year-old was averaging 11.0 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game while shooting 63.4% from the field and 57.8% from deep.