At long last, the Knicks’ first playoff game in eight years is finally here.
New York, the Eastern Conference’s No. 4 seed after posting a 41-31 record during the regular season, will host the Atlanta Hawks at 7 p.m. Sunday in Game 1 of their first-round series in what will be the Knicks’ first playoff game since 2013. Since then, it’s been eight long years filled with mediocrity and dashed hopes.
And then Julius Randle came along.
The All-Star forward, a finalist for the Most Improved Player of the Year award, has fully blossomed in his age-26 season, averaging career-highs in points (24.2), rebounds (10.3), assists (5.9) and steals (1.0) per game. He’s also the league leader in minutes played per game this season at 37.4.
With the help of a supporting cast that includes a budding star in RJ Barrett and a resurgent former NBA MVP in Derrick Rose, Randle has lifted the Knicks far beyond any early season expectations that analysts had for them.
Randle Will Wear Hair in Braids for Playoffs
Still, for as optimistic as Knicks fans are heading into the playoffs, one reason is putting them over the top.
Randle’s hair in braids.
Knicks forward Theo Pinson is making sure Randle rocks his signature look in the first round of the playoffs.
“Knicks fans, don’t worry!” Pinson said in a video posted to his Instagram account on Friday morning. “He (Randle) is getting his hair braided tomorrow (Saturday). I will make sure of it. I don’t give a damn if I’ve got to do it.”
On Twitter, Knicks fans celebrated accordingly.
Randle a Finalist for Most Improved Player of the Year
Randle had been a solid, productive player up until the start of this season. But in 2020-21, he’s become a bona-fide star.
Randle, Detroit’s Jerami Grant and Denver’s Michael Porter Jr. are the three finalists for the NBA’s Most Improved Player of the Year award. But FanDuel Sportsbook has tabbed Randle as the heavy favorite.
“It’s signed, sealed and delivered,” ESPN analyst Kendrick Perkins said on The Jump earlier in May regarding Randle’s bid for Most Improved. “The Knicks are bringing life back to New York. And he (Randle) should be in the MVP conversation, let alone winning Most Improved, if you want to keep it 100.”
Among the biggest improvements in Randle’s game this season? His success beyond the arc. The 6-foot-8 forward attempted 3.6 3-pointers last season and converted only 27 percent of those attempts. But both his volume (5.4 3s per game) and accuracy (42 percent) have spiked this season, making him a much more dynamic threat than in years past.
“I’m just confident because I put the work in,” Randle said in March, via northjersey.com. “I know how hard I worked this summer on trying to improve as a shooter. Honestly, I’m not really surprised.”
And so Randle the solid contributor has become Randle the All-Star.
“When I came in this summer, and I saw the condition he’s in – he’s in great shape, so you start there,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said in March, per northjersey.com’s Chris Iseman. “That’s usually the first step, but adding the three-point shot to his game — he already had all the other stuff – off the dribble, post up — and then adding that three really changed things, not only for him but for our team. I think having a stretch four is a necessity in today’s game. And he’s shooting it with a lot of confidence, he puts a lot of work into it. And then when you add in the play-making now, he’s doing a terrific job with that.”