Julius Randle averaged a whopping 37.6 minutes per game last season, leading the NBA in the category while playing in 71 of 72 games as he willed the Knicks into the playoffs with home-court advantage.
All of those regular-season minutes took a toll, though, and Randle, who averaged 24.1 points on 45.6 percent shooting in the regular season, managed just 18.0 points per game on 29.8 percent shooting in the playoffs.
The good news for Randle? It appears like second-year forward Obi Toppin looks like he could be ready for an expanded role in 2021-22, which would lessen the load on Randle.
In fact, Randle gave Toppin a call on Friday to deliver an encouraging message in that regard, according to a report from Marc Berman of the New York Post. The message, in essence, was: “Keep up the good work. I’m going to need you,” according to Berman.
Toppin Erupting in Summer League
Toppin, the eighth overall pick in the 2020 draft, scored more than any other player across the Summer League on Friday, going off for 31 points against the Detroit Pistons. Toppin was 12-of-20 shooting, including 2-for-5 from 3-point range, and added two rebounds, three steals and two blocks without committing a single turnover.
“I was talking to Julius [Friday],’’ Toppin told Berman late Saturday night. “That’s my boy. That’s my brother. He told me: ‘Good job, just keeping hooping.’ He said it looks like I’m having fun out there. Just keep enjoying what I’m doing.’’
Come the start of the 2021-22 campaign, the Knicks won’t be leaning on Toppin for the type of production he showed against the Pistons on Friday — not by any means — but perhaps they can count on more than they got from him last season.
As a rookie, he averaged 4.1 points and 2.2 rebounds in 11.0 minutes. But Toppin’s playoff performance might have offered a closer snapshot of what’s to come; he averaged 6.4 points and 2.6 rebounds in 13.0 minutes in New York’s five games against the Atlanta Hawks in the first round.
If Toppin can offer a bit more than that, Randle — and the Knicks — would benefit immensely. Berman wrote as much in his piece for the Post:
Finding more minutes for the 23-year-old Toppin would be a boon as it would give Randle more breathers. … If Toppin can log 18 minutes, Randle’s haul could be reduced to 33 minutes or so — if they share the court briefly. Randle looked worn out by the playoffs.
According to one NBA scout, Toppin’s offensive game no longer looks to be a worry, but he still must work on team defense and being a better interior defender in order to earn more minutes from Thibodeau.
Randle Still Underrated?
Despite Randle’s recent All-Star campaign, despite the double-double he averaged a season ago, Partnow has Randle in Tier 4A — alongside players like Joe Harris and Seth Curry.
In justifying Randle’s placement in his rankings, Partnow even concedes: “This is the part where I have to admit that, yes, I hate your favorite players/team.”
Partnow dives into his analysis of Randle in his piece for The Athletic:
The biggest name here is obviously Julius Randle. If we were just basing this on last season, his Second Team All-NBA selection and a season’s worth of tough shotmaking would have been enough to push him up to at least Tier 3. But as I said in the intro, I’m extremely wary of overreacting to outlier shooting seasons occurring during a year of mostly fanless games. As I wrote when discussing the Knicks’ offseason, “coming into last season, Randle had made 31.9 percent of his career attempts longer than 10 feet, including 29.5 percent of his 3s compared to 41.9 and 41.1 percent in 2020-21.”
For a player who made his living on tough shotmaking that was so outside of his career norms, regression was always going to be a worry. And the playoff defeat to Atlanta, in which the Hawks hounded him into sub-30 percent shooting and 23 turnovers in five games, did not actually do much to assuage those concerns. But if Randle can follow up last year with another season along the same lines, he’ll surely be a bit higher next year.