Making the Case
Even putting passion aside, Julius Randle has a black and white, rock solid case to make the All-Star Team. I'll make it today.
A quick note that today’s edition is free for all, mostly because I’m hoping there’s a 0.001 percent chance someone who reads it knows an NBA head coach that might be on the fence about Randle and will pass it along. Also, if you’d like to become a full subscriber, have at it:
Before we get to the case for Julius though, I have a quick game night preview and college corner, and also an update: Saturday’s Spurs game has been postponed with four Spurs testing positive for the coronavirus.
🏀 Who: Orlando (10-18, minus 6.9 net rating)
⌚️ When: 7:00 pm
½ Halftime Zoom: Click here to enter.
📍 Where: Amway Center
🤕 Who’s Out: Just Mitch for the Knicks. Frank Ntilikina is expected to join the team in Orlando after missing the last week for contact tracing.
The Magic, meanwhile, continue to be the walking wounded of the NBA, with Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac both out for the season, Aaron Gordon out until mid-March, rookie Cole Anthony out until after the break with a rib injury, and Evan Fournier (back), James Ennis (groin) and Al-Farouq Aminu (knee) all questionable. As a result, the MASH unit is just 2-8 in its last 10 games.
📈 What’s at Stake: The Knicks have a chance to achieve at least a .500 record at the 30-game mark for just the 6th time since the 2000-01 season (that actually sounds like a lot when you think back to all the pain). They were 18-12 in 2010-11, 15-15 in 2011-12, 21-9 in 2012-13, and 16-14 in both 2016-17 and 2017-18.
🎓 College Corner 🎓
Two quick updates.
First, potential lottery pick James Bouknight saw the court for the first time in over a month last night, and didn’t waste any time announcing his presence:
Bouknight ended up with 18 points on 13 shots. There was no rust to be found. Looking at the likely position of New York’s two picks and the Knicks’ needs, Bouknight is definitely a player to watch from here on in.
Second, I’m cheating and putting a Myles Powell update in this section. Wass noted yesterday that among G-League rookies, Powell is third in scoring with a 23.3 points per game average on 51 percent shooting, trailing only Vernon Carey and Paul Reed, both of whom were drafted. The Knicks should probably figure out how to make room and sign him to an NBA deal before the end of the season.
Making the Case
It’s time to talk about Julius.
Not in the waxing poetic way I did here yesterday, but in the “every meaningful statistical and team marker indicates this man should be an NBA All-Star” sort of way.
It’s necessary. Right now, the prevailing thought among most media people (at least the ones I’ve seen or heard) is that Randle is a nice story who should just be happy to be nominated for consideration.
Eff that. You wanna dance? Let’s dance motherf——-s.
1. Team Impact
If Tom Thibodeau is to be believed, then how you impact winning is the only thing that matters within the 94 x 50 foot space these men perform on. So we start here:
Former Knicks coach and Thibs mentee Jeff Van Gundy has been fond of going on the Lowe Post podcast over the years and flat out disqualifying anyone from All-Star consideration if their team is not at least .500. In this very strange season though, I’d suggest bending his rule ever so slightly while also maintaining its spirit.
At the very least, that means picking someone like Nikola Vucevic over Randle is just flat out incorrect. Here are their numbers side by side:
Notably, Vooch is taking nearly three more shots per game and averaging less than a point more while dishing two fewer assists per night. These discrepancies are more than enough to overcome the moderate gap in eFG%. You can also save your “Orlando has been decimated by injuries” takes; the Magic had a preseason over/under of 31.5 to New York’s 22.5. Of their three leading scorers besides Vucevic, Ross has been healthy for all but one game, Gordon for two thirds of games, and Fournier for half the games.
A similar team-injury exception argument is going to be brought up for Bam Adebayo, another player who Randle will be fighting it out with. Let’s do another side by side:
Those numbers look pretty even. Bam is more efficient, Julius gets more buckets and boards. Bam has the blocks and steals, Julius stretches the floor. Dead even AST/TO.
Adebayo supporters will point to his all-world defense as the tiebreaker, but even if there were a materially significant difference between the two on that end of the court, why does Bam get a pass for leading his defending Eastern Conference champs to an 11-14 record in games he’s played? Well it must be because of his stellar on/off numbers:
Well ain’t that a thing.
Says here that Julius not only makes a much bigger difference on offense, but nearly as much of an impact as Bam on defense as well.
While we’re at it, let’s look at where Randle ranks in Cleaning the Glass’ “Expected Wins” metric, which measures how many more games a team would win over an 82-games season thanks to a player’s efficiency differential. I’ve also added usage rates and the percentile rankings for those usage rates for reasons I’ll get into in a bit:
Randle is 13th in a 24-man field. Not great, but not bad…which brings us to usage.
I added usage rate because saying that someone like Tobias Harris, who ranks in the 82nd percentile in usage, is equally responsible for 30 additional wins as someone like Randle (96th percentile in usage) is for his 13 added wins doesn’t seem very fair.
With that in mind, here are the only players whose teams are currently occupying an East playoff spot that have added at least 10 wins and are in the top five percent for usage: Joel Embiid, Kevin Durant, Jayson Tatum, Giannis Antetokounmpo…and Julius Randle.
Jaylen Brown (94th percentile in usage, 10 added wins) just misses the cut, which speaks not to the fact that he shouldn’t make the team - he should - but to the fair bit of absurdity that exists among the pundits who act like he is a shoe in and Randle should be on the periphery of the discussion.
Let’s do one more side by side:
Brown has been awesome, but as we’ll get to in the next section, his stats haven’t blown away Julius to the point that this isn’t a conversation. Defense? Again, if you’re just going by reputation and haven’t watched every Knicks game, maybe you don’t know how impactful Randle has been on that end of the court. But we know better.
To that end, Thibs may be a gruff, old school tactician who gets the most out of his guys, but he doesn’t pull a magic wand out of his ass and sprinkle pixie dust on the court before games. The players are the ones who have earned that top-three defensive rating, and Randle has been on the court for a whopping 77 percent of the time.
It isn’t just the benefit of playing with Mitchell Robinson either:
Knicks Defensive Rating (Randle & Robinson on): 106.8
Knicks Defensive Rating (Randle & Noel on): 108.1
If anything, Robinson has benefited as much from playing with Randle as the other way around:
Knicks Defensive Rating (Randle off, Robinson on): 118.7
So again I ask: why is Brown an automatic and Randle an also ran? I guess because Randle hasn’t played enough minutes to warr-
2. The Best Ability Is…
Why is OK to poke fun at Thibs when he’s driving guys into the ground, but when it comes to making Julius Randle’s All-Star case, his Iron Horse act this season isn’t given the proper credit?
Check out the percentage of total team minutes that Randle has played in comparison to the other All-Star contenders:
Should this disqualify someone like, say…Kevin Durant, who has appeared in fewer than half the minutes that Brooklyn has been on the court this season? No, because he’s been good enough to overcome that.
But a guy like Jimmy Butler, who has barely appeared in a third of the minutes his team had played heading into last night’s games? I’d also argue that Jrue Holiday (58 percent), Ben Simmons (62 percent) and Bam Adebayo (64 percent) deserve to be dinged for a lack of court time.
Is it their fault? Maybe not, but does it even matter? Is it Julius Randle’s fault that he’s stuck on a team with the 5th lowest effective field goal percentage in the NBA and plays in a lineup that has less shooting that any in the league?
I don’t see anyone bringing up the New York’s lack of spacing when pointing to Randle’s slightly lower efficiency, even though we know how much attention he draws possession after possession every damn night. Better yet: imagine how many more dimes Randle would have if the rest of his starting five didn’t have a collective 3-point conversion rate of 32.8 percent.
Speaking of which…
3. A Little Help?
Look at the other potential East All-Stars, and notice something most of them have in common: They play with one or two other player who are in the same conversation.
Philly: Embiid, Simmons, Harris
Milwaukee: Antetokounmpo, Middleton, Holiday
Brooklyn: Durant, Irving, Harden
Indiana: Sabonis, Brogdon
Boston: Tatum, Brown
Miami: Adebayo, Butler
Toronto: VanVleet, Lowry
The only cheeses that stand alone are Randle, Hayward, LaVine, Young, Vooch, Grant and Beal (although Terry Rozier has had quite a nice little season for Charlotte). Sure enough, the Knicks have a better record than all of those teams despite their second and third best players being a grand total of 41 years old between the two of them.
4. Nerding Out
I’m not exactly an advanced stats nut when it comes to metrics that I don’t understand, but people far smarter than I often have a tendency to look at this stuff like it matters.
So for shits and giggles, I ranked every East ASG candidate by BasketballReference.com’s calculations for Value Over Replacement Player (VORP), Box Score Plus Minus (BMP), Win Shares, Win Shares per 48 minutes (WS/48) and ESPN’s Real Plus Minus (ESPN RPM). Finally, I calculated the average ranking for each player. Here are the results:
Julius Randle ranks 9th, in a cluster of 11 players all between a 23.6 and 37 average, after the top four of Embiid, Antetokounmpo, Harden and Irving.
(One note: Jimmy Butler didn’t play enough games to qualify in two categories, but even if we included what his rankings would have been in each of those metrics, his average would still only come out to 32.2 - below Randle)
Most importantly, a few nerd darlings like Adebayo and VanVleet fall short of Randle here, while Jrue Holiday - whose advanced stats I’ve heard used as the primary component of his candidacy, what with averages of just 16 points and five dimes - is just one spot higher, the same as he was in the on/off “Wins Added” rankings above.
Of course, if we go the old fashioned way and hold counting stats to actually mean something, guys like Holiday are even more screwed…
I mean, it’s Larry Fucking Bird:
If you’ve been reading this newsletter over the last several weeks, you’d know by now that Randle is having the sort of statistical campaign that has usually been put up by MVP’s and multi-time All-Stars.
Vork’s stat is a great one, but so are these:
Mentioned yesterday, Randle is one of 23 players in NBA history 6’8” or taller who have averaged (or are currently averaging) at least 20 points and five dimes, joining LeBron (18x), Bird (10x), T-Mac (6x), Durant (5x), Grant Hill (5x), Magic (4x), Wilt (4x), Giannis (4x), Scottie (4x), Garnett (3x), Blake Griffin (3x), Kareem (2x), Jokić (2x), C-Webb (2x), Jamal Mashburn (2x), Antoine Walker (2x), Boogie Cousins, Paul George, Stephen Jackson, Jalen Rose, Domantas Sabonis and Sidney Wicks. All except Rose and Jackson made at least one All-Star game.
Randle is one of 10 players ever to average 20, 10 & 5 with at least a 25 usage rate, joining Bird (4x), Antetokounmpo (3x), Garnett (3x), Russ (3x), Jokic (2x), Barkley, Boogie, Sabonis and Webber. Of the 16 times this has happened before this season, 15 resulted in at least an All-NBA 2nd Team selection, and 6 were named MVP.
This season, according to Cleaning the Glass, only Randle and Jimmy Butler are in the 85th percentile or above in usage rate, assist percentage and assist to usage ratio.
He’s third in the NBA in defensive rebounds per game for the third best defense in basketball. And finally…
Randle is one of only three players in the NBA leading their team in points, rebounds and assists per game, joining Nikola Jokic and Luka Doncic.
And the Envelope Please…
I’m assuming Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal and Kyrie Irving get in as starters (all deserving, although I still have misgivings about Irving taking two weeks off, even if his reasoning was completely valid and in theory should be celebrated. No one should bash him for his decision, but to overlook it when parsing hairs amongst worthy candidates who did not get the same benefit - who knows who else could have used a few weeks to clear their headspace, after all? - seems unwise).
With those in place, here are my final seven, in order of merit, based on everything I’ve laid out:
I really struggled with the last two, LaVine, and Bam. In the end, the fact that Philly sits atop the East and Simmons is the most versatile defender in the NBA, if not the best, swayed me to include him.
As for Young - who I despise watching with every fiber of my being - I can’t very well say “where would the Knicks be without Randle?” and then not ponder the same about Atlanta. On the flip side, I have a legitimate question as to how much, if at all, the Bulls would miss LaVine if he just flat out vanished.
And Bam, well…what can I say. His team is 11-14 with him in the lineup, the on/off stats are good but not great, ditto for the advanced numbers, and its not like there are any counting stats that pop off the page. Ask me tomorrow and I might have him over Young, Simmons or both.
That’s it. Randle should not only get in, but it should not be close. It’ll be up to the coaches to make that decision, and honestly, that’s probably for the best. They know better than anyone how much the Knicks have relied on him this season, and while Thibs may be driving the car, it wouldn’t go anywhere without its engine.
That’s it for today! If you enjoy this newsletter and like the Mets, don’t forget to subscribe for free to JB’s Metropolitan. See everyone tomorrow! #BlackLivesMatter