After surprising the entire league with a top-five defense last season, the New York Knicks will look to prove doubters wrong who’ve called their year a fluke.
And perhaps none of them more than All-NBA forward Julius Randle, fresh off of his first All-Star appearance and winning the Most Improved Player award.
The 26-year old made the transition from role player to number one option last season with New York, and lead them to their first playoff appearance since 2013.
But there are a number of doubters around the league that he can repeat, let alone build off, his stellar 2020-2021 campaign.
Randle averaged 24.1 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 6.0 assists across 71 appearances with the Knicks last season, all career-highs.
And it doesn’t look as he’s got plans of slowing down just yet, with workout videos rolling in weekly showing the forward working on all aspects of his game.
The latest, via photographer and videographer Elvin Feratovic of New York City, shows a lean Randle, focused and ready for what awaits next season:
There are some excellent photos as well, showcasing the Knicks star’s physique, a result of what was likely a long summer of hard work and training:
Is it possible that Randle could improve off the unexpected strides he took last season? What would that look like for the New York Knicks?
Where Does Randle Stand to Improve?
When you look at the stat sheet, Randle was a star in almost every realm of the game last season, especially on the offensive end of the ball.
It’s his defense that will draw the most criticism, but one stat released September 5 courtesy of BasketballNews.com seemingly shuts down that narrative, in part:
Now, defense is more than just isolation sets — in fact, it’s a lot more. But this helps to show that Randle, while not flashy, is a more than capable defender.
And he posted a 107 defensive rating last year, which is a lot more impressive when you compare it to other top players.
According to Stathead.com, of the four players to post at least 22 points, 10 rebounds and five or more assists per game, Randle is tied with two-time MVP and 2020 Defensive Player of the Year for the best defensive rating.
Perhaps the New York Knicks star deserves a little more credit for his efforts on the defensive end.
He’s no Defensive Player of the Year candidate, but he’s holding his own more often than not, especially in one-on-one situations against the NBA’s best.
But if that’s the case, then what is next for Randle on his career trajectory?
New York Knicks fans likely wouldn’t trade the 2020-2021 campaign for anything short of the franchise’s third championship.
But it’s just how far the team came in accomplishing that last season that put a pause on the Randle hype after he underperformed in the postseason.
New York was put down in five games in their first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks, one that fans thought was inevitably going to go their way.
And Randle averaged just 18.0 points on 29.8% shooting from the field, to go with 4.6 turnovers per game.
That last number, lead all players this past postseason, according to NBA.com’s Stats Tracking. And only three players shot worse than him: Donte DiVincenzo, Kyle Kuzma and Jimmy Butler.
Randle can certainly improve next season — even the best of the best have areas where they’re looking to improve.
But for the New York Knicks, the most important may be his playoff performance, assuming they accomplish their goal in returning to the postseason in 2022.