It was no surprise when the Knicks popped up on ESPN’s broadcast the other night for a showdown against the Heat that analyst Jeff Van Gundy pulled no punches in his assessment of the team’s standing in the NBA. The Knicks have lost five of their last six, after all, and the former New York coach has never been known for holding back on his opinions.
But what might have been a surprise is that Van Gundy—who twice employed Tom Thibodeau as an assistant and is very close to him personally—took special aim at Knicks star Julius Randle, who has had a down year after earning an All-Star spot last season.
Randle’s shooting has tanked this season as he has fallen to 41.2% from the field and 30.7% from the 3-point line. But it goes beyond that, according to Van Gundy.
“As much as it’s a shooting issue, it’s also an energy issue,” Van Gundy said. “You’ve gotta look at the best player and you’ve just gotta see through action and body language an absolute and unquenched desire to win. You’ve got to have that. People have to feed off of that.”
The implication there is clear: Randle is not acting like a player with a whole lot of desire to win.
Randle’s Contract a Problem for Knicks
Randle’s performance this year both on and off the floor has come into question. Earlier this month he twice harangued the Knicks fans with some profane answers to media questions, and during a wild comeback win, gave the crowd—which had been booing earlier in the game—a thumbs-down sign.
Randle was given a four-year, $117 million extension this summer by the Knicks, a reasonable deal for a star who is in his prime, having just turned 27 years old.
But Randle got that contract after averaging 24.1 points last year and shooting the ball exceptionally well, making 45.6% of his shots and 41.1% of his 3-pointers. His scoring has dropped considerably and his shooting has plummeted.
Considering that Randle’s career 3-point percentage is 34.0%, last year is looking like a fluke. That makes it tough to evaluate what to expect from him going forward, especially with the big contract looming, running through 2026.
Knicks Are ‘Definition of Insanity’
Van Gundy did not only criticize Randle, however. The Knicks are 23-26 and 11th in the conference, meaning as of now, they would not even qualify for the play-in games. That is an unexpected follow-up for a team that was 41-31 and finished with the No. 4 seed in the East last season.
Van Gundy suggested the Knicks get very active at the NBA trade deadline.
“They need major changes,” he said. “They just don’t bring it on a nightly basis. I’m talking the starting unit. There’s been plenty of time throughout the year to show that they work well together. I just don’t know how they continue on like this, you know, that’s the definition of insanity. Seeing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”