As the Knicks' beat hits a new crescendo for this season, it's impossible to deny the band leader at the heart of it all.
GOOOOOOOOD Morning Knicks Fans! And how do you do to-day? I hope you enjoyed Saturday’s bonus newsletter recapping the Dallas W. Before we get to our free Monday edition, a reminder: if you’re not a full subscriber, you can change that just in time for the playoff push:
Today we’ll focus on Julius Randle’s All-NBA case, but first, let’s recap yesterday’s big win against the Pelicans and take a peek at the standings heading into the final 14 games.
Game 58: Knicks 122, Pels 112 - “The Train Keeps Moving”
⌚️ Quick Recap: After missing a ton of bunnies early while giving up everything at the rim to New Orleans, New York’s stifling defense and Julius Randle combined to carry a 13-point lead into halftime. Thanks to some early third quarter Eric Bledsoe heroics though, the Pels made this tight throughout the second half, ultimately holding a six-point lead with under two minutes remaining. Just when it looked like the streak was over, the Knicks made some big threes late, including one by Reggie Bullock to put the game into OT, where New York finally pulled away.
🔦 Play of the Game: After New Orleans went up by six on a Bledsoe runner with 1:48 to go, New York looked cooked thanks to a busted possession where Randle was stifled, but he found Derrick Rose for a three to cut the lead in half. That’s where the margin remained until the final Knicks possession, when Rose was the hero again, finding Reggie Bullock in the corner for a game-tying triple:
As you might expect, the play was much discussed afterwards. On the Knicks’ side, Rose said that Randle was the first option on the possession but that New Orleans had him covered, so Reggie became his target on the drive. The postgame thoughts from the Pelicans were…less cordial:
Stan, who is hopefully renting in New Orleans, could have been talking about either Eric Bledsoe failing to foul Rose on the drive or the more obvious decision by Lonzo Ball to help off Bullock in the corner.
Either way, it felt like the basketball gods owed us this one. The Knicks have been the victim of some rough moments at the end of games. It was about damn time we weren’t on the short end of the stick.
⏎ Turning Point: Thankfully not the early third, when it seemed like the Knicks simply weren’t prepared for Eric Bledsoe to act like an actual NBA basketball player. RJ Barrett was covering him for most of these possessions and we saw how a quicker guard can still give Barrett problems.
On the whole, RJ scored well enough - 18 points on 15 shots - but was sloppy with the ball all afternoon, and ended up with six turnovers. Even so, when he fouled out with four minutes left and Zion about to give the Pels a five-point lead from the line, it was unclear who would help Randle (who had made their last four baskets) keep the Knicks in the game.
New York would wind up outscoring the Pelicans 30-15 from that point forward, and no one was more responsible than Derrick Rose. In addition to the assist on the game-tying three and his own triple before that, Rose got to the line and then abused Bledsoe one possession later:
He also scored two buckets in overtime that helped the Knicks pull away. More on Rose in a bit.
🤔 Rotation Reflections: After getting a quick first half hook the last time these teams played and then only playing six minutes against Dallas, Immanuel Quickley (8 points on 1-of-5 shooting, 4 rebounds, 3 assists) saw 22 minutes of action yesterday, thanks in part to both RJ Barrett and Reggie Bullock fouling out.
Initially after RJ exited though, Thibs put in Elfrid Payton (20 minutes, five points on 2-for-8 shooting), but seemed to realize the error of his ways, reinserting Quickley just over two minutes later. Quick ended up missing two shots late in regulation, but one led to an offensive rebound and two soul shots by Nerlens Noel. The other was an acceptable look…
…that hopefully drops next time. On the bright side, the experience is invaluable. Better yet, it’s nice to have a kid who has the stones to take this shot with the game on the line.
We also saw cameos from both Kevin Knox (six first-half minutes, two points) and Frank Ntilikina (four scoreless second-half minutes). Knox had an uneven go, with a nice dribble pull-up after he got run off the line but also a missed assignment in transition and a few missed threes. He also got tied up with Zion after a misguided drive and was late getting back out on a corner three that missed. It wasn’t a shock that he rode the pine after halftime.
Frank, inserted for defensive purposes in overtime, was just as uneven, putting in his usual effort but also getting called for three fouls (although one was of the contactless variety; the refs were trash city all afternoon).
💫 Stars of the Game 💫
Nerlens Noel: Edges out Reggie Bullock for this honor.
Noel had a scare in the first half that had every Knicks fan’s heart in their throat. He went up for a block and came down writhing in pain while holding his right hand, immediately heading back to the locker room.
Not only was he not seriously injured, but he came back to finish with 12 points on six shots, including two massive free throws with under a minute to go. Noel also had eight boards (four offensive) and two blocks, the second of which was as momentous as his stonewalling of DFS in Dallas:
He’s a starting center on a winning team in the middle of a career year. Give the Knicks brass all the credit in the world for getting him on a one-year, $5 million deal, and Noel credit for making the most of his opportunity.
Julius Randle: After 33, 10 & 5 yesterday - Randle’s fourth straight 30-point game - New York’s All-Star is averaging 28, 9 & 7 over his last nine.
He didn’t have his most efficient game against New Orleans (11-for-28, 2-for-8 from deep), but the looks were mostly good and he saved his best for when it was needed most:
This shot went to review because it was so close to the buzzer, and when it was ruled good, the Pelicans were essentially done.
Much more on Randle below.
Derrick Rose: The Knicks probably lose this game without Derrick Rose, and it probably wouldn’t have been close. If you’ve been paying attention, that shouldn’t come as a surprise.
According to Cleaning the Glass, Rose has been the most positively impactful Knick, helping them outscore teams by 6.4 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the court. He was a plus-22 yesterday, and ended up with 23 points on 17 shots to go with five assists. Thanks in part to Rose, Elf has seen 20 or fewer minutes in four of the last six games.
With the Hornets securely in the playoffs, it’s hard to argue that giving up their second round pick to acquire Rose for the rest of the year wasn’t a massive win for the Knicks.
The Heat beating the Nets yesterday was obviously unfortunate (talk about choosing the less stinky bowl of poo), but I’ve been penciling them in for a playoff spot anyway, in part because they own the tiebreaker and in part because it’s the Heat and I just assume they’ll figure it out.
The Hawks or Celtics still make the most sense as teams we’re likely to pass. As noted on Friday, we own the tiebreaker against Atlanta and can gain it on Boston by winning on the last day of the season.
In the meantime, this week’s games against Charlotte and Atlanta loom positively massive.
I Guess We’re Doing This Again
I mean…make of it what you will:
Other News & Notes:
🏀 Jeff Van Gundy couldn’t help gushing about Julius Randle during Saturday night’s national TV broadcast, calling him a star and saying he’s easily the league’s Most Improved Player and that he would put him in the top 12 on his MVP ballot.
🏀 According to Marc Berman, the Knicks have considered adding Euroleague point guard Mike James, who can definitely score but also comes with some issues. James would take the spot previously occupied by John Henson, who was not retained after his 10-day contract expired.
Right around the time he was named to his first NBA All-Star team, I started giving serious consideration to the idea of Julius Randle as candidate for a spot on one of the All-NBA teams.
Truthfully, I never considered it that seriously...at least not at first. My reasoning was simply based on scarcity of spots and the reputation of his competitors.
For starters, we had LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard, none of whom need any introduction. Then there was Jimmy Butler, fresh off his run to the Finals.
That was last season, and thus, supposedly not impactful on this season’s voting. Reality says otherwise though, as All-NBA voters typically weigh pedigree where these things are concerned. The same logic figured to put Paul George ahead of Randle in the running, not to mention the fact that the Clippers are contenders and the Knicks were just happy to be here.
And then we had Jayson Tatum and yesterday’s foe, Zion Williamson, both of whom qualify as young, rising stars in a league that has historically rewarded such players if the numbers justify it.
To be clear, both Zion and Tatum do have ridiculous numbers, ranking 10th and 13th in the league in scoring, respectively. The former is doing so on historically unprecedented efficiency while the latter just looks the part of an ideal, modern, two-way wing, hitting off the dribble, step-back 3-pointers like, well…like this:
Except Julius Randle isn’t a wing. He’s a 6-foot-8, 250 pound brick shit-house on wheels. That’s why he’s the only forward besides Giannis in serious contention for one of these spots who is also in the top 30 in the league in rebounding, ranking 14th.
No, Randle’s step-backs don’t come as regularly as Tatum, but he’s hitting them at a better rate (40.5 to 38.8 percent) on significant volume (5.2 attempts per game to Tatum’s 7.5) and towers over the Celtic wing in both boards and assists. A half a game separates the teams in the standings, and unlike Tatum, Randle doesn’t have the benefit of another All-NBA candidate on his team.
As for Zion, for as much as he’s a beast on the block, he’s nowhere near as good on the glass (7.2 boards to Randle’s 10.5), is a sieve on defense, and most importantly, doesn’t have the same playmaking acumen as his New York counterpart (3.7 dimes to Randle’s 6.1). We noticed as much when Williamson wasn’t nearly as impactful down the stretch of either game the two men played over the last five days.
Then there is Paul George, who is clearly a better player than Julius Randle…right?
Yes, George is more efficient, but the boards and dimes balance that out, as does this: George has played in 44 games to Randle’s 57. Is PG13 so superior as to render this discrepancy meaningless? And what of the fact that he gets to play alongside the man widely acknowledged as the best two-way player in the sport?
That leaves Butler, who is Miami’s everything when he plays, averaging 21, 7 & 7 on nearly 50 percent from the field. But he doesn’t play often, with his 1383 minutes a mere 65 percent of Julius Randle’s league leading total of 2131. At some point, this has to matter.
The same goes for team performance. Yes, the Clippers will finish better than the Knicks, but relative to expectations, the tables there are turned. The Celtics and Heat are in the same boat as New York, and the Pelicans are lottery fodder.
Turning finally to the advanced numbers, we find that Julius is more than holding his own against everyone in Value Over Replacement Player, Box Plus Minus, Win Shares, ESPN’s Real Plus Minus, and the resulting Real Plus Minus Wins Added:
And we haven’t even talked about how the three shoe-in’s - LeBron, Kawhi and Giannis - have played 41, 46 and 47 games, respectively. Again, they’re getting in, and that’s fine, but it’s notable that out of all of these candidates, Randle stands alone as a model of durability.
That he does all this for a team more desperate for his presence in the lineup than any other in the league, and, well…if that doesn’t make for a competitive case, I’m not sure what will.
That’s it for today! If you enjoy this newsletter and like the Mets, don’t forget to subscribe to JB’s Metropolitan. See everyone soon! #BlackLivesMatter
As someone who has preached caution when it comes to Lonzo’s potential impact on the Knicks, I would similarly argue that too much shouldn’t be made of one bad play or one rough game. That said, let this be a reminder: Ball is a nice player; he is not the be all, end all.
He’s actually in the top 10 in the NBA in total rebounds because of how much he plays. He’s also 11th in total assists and in total points. Only Jokic is in the top 10 in all three categories.
I inadvertently mixed up Julius and Jimmy in VORP in an earlier version of the newsletter. Apologies for the error! Also, VORP has been updated to reflect yesterday’s games.