Scout on how Knicks’ Julius Randle can improve during 2021-22 season

Julius Randle treated image, black jersey with orange X behind head

Julius Randle treated image, black jersey with orange X behind head

Seconds after he hit the game-winner on Friday, Julius Randle was swarmed by his teammates: Derrick Rose, Obi Toppin, Immanuel Quickley.

The whole roster was jumping around Randle.

Amid all of the enthusiasm, RJ Barrett’s reaction stood out.

Barrett grabbed Randle as he emerged from the pile and put his arm around him.

“I was here when people were booing him when he had the last two free throws of the game (in 2019); I was here when people were talking bad about him, saying all these things. I was there every day with him,” Barrett said.

Yes, Barrett knows all about the challenges of Randle’s first year in New York. And he saw first-handle how Randle emerged from a brutal 2019-20 season to lead the Knicks to the playoffs last year and earn All-NBA honors.

Now, the question is how can Randle, Barrett and the Knicks build off of last season?

More specifically, how can Randle improve after a historic (24.1 ppg, 10.2 rebounds, 6.0 assist) 2020-21 campaign?

Oct 15, 2021; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) drives to the basket against the Washington Wizards in the third quarter at Madison Square Garden.Oct 15, 2021; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) drives to the basket against the Washington Wizards in the third quarter at Madison Square Garden.

Oct 15, 2021; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) drives to the basket against the Washington Wizards in the third quarter at Madison Square Garden.

To answer that question, we spoke to a scout who watched the Knicks fairly regularly last season.

Here’s what the scout said: “Let’s take the Atlanta series out of it for a second. Just regular season, I think he can make quicker decisions with the ball. As great as he was (in ’20-’21), I think he can cut down on the turnovers by being just a little quicker with the ball. Having (Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier) should help there. He won’t have to have the (offense run through him) as much this year.

“The other thing, for me, is how will he play off the ball? Even if the ball isn’t in his hands, he’s going to (attract attention) from the defense. So he’s going to be moving without the ball a lot, which we didn’t see a lot of last season. That, to me, is a key for him (and the Knicks).”

It’s worth noting that Randle averaged a career high in assists last season, so it’s not as if he held the ball at the expense of his teammates. But Randle was in the top 5 in touches per game among forwards in 2020-21. That number is probably going to decrease in the coming season. Newcomers Walker and Fournier can create off the dribble. So Randle will have more opportunity to work off the ball.

“The other thing for me is (Randle’s minutes),” the scout said. “It’s not just the minutes, but the mileage. If (Obi Toppin) or another front line guy can step up, they should be able to cut his minutes. I don’t think he was out of gas (in the playoffs). They had a break (between the last regular season game and the start of the Atlanta series). But this year and long-term, (Randle playing fewer minutes) can only help.”

Randle was tied with James Harden for minutes per game last season. He led the league in total minutes. As far as distance traveled, Randle and Barrett both ranked in the top 10 in distance traveled per game. He said all season long that he prepared his body for the workload. And Tom Thibodeau balanced Randle’s big minutes with lighter practices.

New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) controls the ball against the Atlanta Hawks in the fourth quarter during game three in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs at State Farm Arena.New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) controls the ball against the Atlanta Hawks in the fourth quarter during game three in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs at State Farm Arena.

New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) controls the ball against the Atlanta Hawks in the fourth quarter during game three in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs at State Farm Arena.

But now that Randle is under contract for the next five years, it probably behooves the Knicks to think big-picture with his workload.

Lastly, it’s interesting to hear what Thibodeau said about Randle, both in reference to last year’s playoffs and a more general reference to the overall sense of sacrifice he’d like to see from the roster.

Here is Thibodeau’s quote from last week when he was about anything things that Randle can improve on this season:

“I think he had an opportunity to take a step back and learn from that. He understands when you do the things that he’s done, when you average 24, 25 points a game and you’re getting 10 rebounds and six assists, you’re gonna get a lot of attention, so then you have to realize, OK, if they’re gonna give me that type of attention, how could I take advantage of that? And so, I think playing off the pass more, moving without the ball — there’s a lot of different things that he can do. His versatility is great. He can run the floor. He can post. He can move without the ball. He can offensive rebound. He can shoot the three. He can put it on the floor. So, there’s a lot of different things that he can do and there’s a lot of different ways that he can score, but it’s being an all-around player and impacting the game.

“I like the way our team is built. And then it’s gonna be the willingness to sacrifice and put the team first for all our players. The more talented players that you have, the more sacrificing has to be done. The team has to come first. I go back to my time in Boston when we won the championship in ’08. We had three guys that sacrificed a lot in order for the team to win a championship in [Kevin] Garnett, [Paul] Pierce and [Ray] Allen.

“Both were scoring in the mid-20s the year before they got there. They got to Boston and all sacrificed for each other, averaged 17, 18 and the team was terrific and won a championship. And we won a championship because of their willingness to sacrifice for each other.”