A knee injury abruptly ended his promising rookie campaign, and he spent his comeback season playing under the tutelage of Kobe Bryant. Following a disappointing first season leading the Knicks, Randle returned an All-NBA player in year two, clawing New York back into basketball relevancy one gutsy performance after another.
Leon Rose and company sought to ease Randle’s burden this year, bringing in Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier, a couple of dynamic offense options who could carry their own load. Early on, it appears the Knicks are generating better looks and more space, plus Fournier was able to tack on a 30-piece to aid Randle in the home opener.
However, Randle is still shooting and playing more than ever. At times, he looks unprepared for open shots. Three games is a tiny sample size, but it appears Randle is still adjusting to an easier-flowing offense.
The most glaring example of this is the wide open threes Randle passes on. Nearly every Fournier-Randle dribble hand-off or pick-and-pop grants Randle all the space he could ask for, yet he turns down opportunities like these:
These all ended in well-contested long twos, shots Randle shouldn’t have to take as much. Instinctively, he’s often getting ready to dribble, likely expecting a contested shot that is actually much further away.
He also might not be super comfortable with this shot yet. Randle wasn’t a high-volume marksman until last season, and had constant attention on him then.
Oddly enough, he shot worse from deep with defenders a safe distance away than he did with one in his grill last year. Per NBA.com tracking data, he connected on 39.3 percent of his threes with six-plus feet of space, 42.5 percent with a defender four-to-six feet away and 41.3 percent in tighter coverage.
It’s tough to say whether this is a genuine quirk or a single season’s statistical aberration. Perhaps it has something to do with his form. Randle gets off the ground more when he needs to loft a jumper over a nearby defender, while many of these open catch-and-shoot looks appear stilted and fall short.
There’s a similar reading from his catch-and-shoot vs. pull-up numbers. Randle hit 45.8 percent of his threes off one dribble and 41.6 percent straight off the catch.
None of this is cause for alarm or even worry, but can help explain part of the gap the Knicks’ new-look offense needs to bridge between now and the 20-game mark. Randle taking and making more of his wide open deep balls instead of diving into the teeth of the defense is part of that.
Another is limiting the amount of straightforward isolations he’s put through. They are reminiscent of last season’s stagnant offense that came back to bite the Knicks in the playoffs. The (fair) excuse then was a lack of secondary options, but now they’re here, and at times are resigned to the corners with nothing to do.
Whether this is due to coaching or habit, the offense shouldn’t lean on Randle making something happen on his own like it did last season. While it’s mostly effective, namely off prior movement that gives Randle a mismatch, it also stalled the Knicks offense in some key moments.
New York’s late fourth quarter collapse to Boston featured consecutive Randle isolations ending in bricked shots. Tom Thibodeau adjusted and began going to the Fournier-Randle two-man game, creating great looks through the two overtime periods. We saw similar dead stretches of offense in the home loss to the Magic.
The statistics back up the eye test in the sheer amount of Randle-ball this Knicks offense features. He’s second in the league in total plays ending in isolations, per NBA.com’s play type data, behind James Harden, and one of only seven players in the league with 10+ post-up plays.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a Randle-led offense. New York currently has a top-10 offensive efficiency, albeit after three games with two against the lowly Magic.
However, there are better ways to get Randle his offense while simultaneously opening up more opportunities for others — a necessity if New York wants to avoid a repeat of the Hawks series. The Knicks are undoubtedly working at it, we’re just seeing the early road bumps in any transition process take place.
One interesting twist would be giving Randle more pick-and-rolls as the ball handler from the top of the key. He’s proved himself a gifted passer and can terrorize any coverage he sees. Go under and he’ll step into a comfortable three, pursue over the screen and he’ll attack with the right read or switch and hope he doesn’t leave your big man in the dust or your guard in a stretcher.
Whatever the solution, fans can be confident Randle, Thibodeau, and the Knicks will find it sooner rather than later. The added talent on the roster is already paying dividends, and if Randle’s biggest problem this season is the game getting too easy for him, New York is in an excellent spot.