Julius Randle’s resurgent season could earn an All-Star spot

As he crosses the East River and enters the home of two NBA All-Stars on Saturday night, Julius Randle is making a strong case to join them in Salt Lake City next month.

While Nets stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have been named Eastern Conference starters for the game, Randle’s path will have to come as a reserve. But the Knicks star continues to stack big-time performances in the midst of a resurgent season that is currently surpassing his first All-Star campaign in 2020-2021.

Entering Saturday’s clash against the Nets at Barclays Center, Randle is averaging 24.8 points (on 46.1 percent shooting) and 10.9 rebounds per game – all improvements from the last time he was an All-Star. Only his three-point shooting (from 41.1 percent to 34.6) and assists (from six per game to four) are down from that year, but so are his turnovers (from 3.4 per game to 2.7) as he continues to rebound from a disappointing 2021-2022 season in between.

Randle has come alive especially over the past month. Across his last 19 games, he is averaging 29 points (on 47 percent shooting), 13.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists in 39 minutes.

“I like the force that he’s playing with,” coach Tom Thibodeau said after Thursday’s win in Boston in which Randle posted 37 points and nine rebounds. “He’s doing it [in] different ways and he’s hard to guard when he does that. He’s doing it moving without the ball. He’s doing it in the post, he’s doing it off the dribble, he’s doing it in transition with the three. He’s playing off people really well. And he’s creating rhythm for everybody. That’s a big plus.”

 Julius Randle #30 of the New York Knicks drives to the basket during the game against the Toronto Raptors on January 22, 2023 at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Julius Randle drives to the basket, splitting two defenders during a game against the Toronto Raptors on January 22, 2023.
NBAE via Getty Images

Randle has a few more games left to impress coaches across the league, who will vote on All-Star reserves before they are announced next Thursday. Each conference will have seven reserves, broken down by two guards, three frontcourt players and two wild cards.

With Durant, Irving, Jayson Tatum, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Donovan Mitchell named Eastern Conference starters, Joel Embiid and Jaylen Brown appear to be locks for two of the reserve spots, leaving four spaces for Randle (since he won’t be eligible for the other guard spot).

The players Randle figures to be competing against for the final spots include Bam Adebayo, Pascal Siakam and Jimmy Butler in the frontcourt or teammate Jalen Brunson, Tyrese Haliburton, James Harden, Jrue Holiday, DeMar DeRozan and Trae Young for the wild cards. 

Julius Randle #30 of the New York Knicks and Jalen Brunson #11 celebrate during the second half against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on January 26, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts.
Julius Randle and teammate Jalen Brunson celebrate during the second half against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden.
Getty Images

On TNT’s “Inside the NBA” show Thursday night, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal – despite O’Neal referring to Randle as “Julius Randolph” – all picked Randle to be one of the East’s reserves, with Embiid and Brown also earning unanimous approval.

Still, Randle only finished 10th among frontcourt candidates in the player vote, with the three starters, Embiid, Adebayo, Siakam, Butler, Paolo Banchero and Jarrett Allen all ahead of him.

Randle’s candidacy could receive a boost if Durant is unable to play in the All-Star game because of the sprained MCL that currently has him sidelined. In that case, Embiid would likely move into the starting lineup and open a frontcourt reserve space.

Julius Randle #30 of the New York Knicks drives to the basket during the game against the Boston Celtics on January 26, 2023 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.
Julius Randle drives to the basket to put up a floater against the Boston Celtics on January 26, 2023.
NBAE via Getty Images

But Randle’s recent hot streak may be enough to put him in the showcase regardless of whether or not Durant is healthy enough to play.

One of the few advanced stats working against Randle’s candidacy is FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR, which measures a player’s overall value combining offensive and defensive ratings. Randle ranks 64th in the NBA with a 1.8 RAPTOR rating — with his defense hurting his cause — with Mitchell Robinson, Brunson and Immanuel Quickley of the Knicks ahead of him.

In RAPTOR Wins Above Replacement, Randle ranks 34th in the NBA at 4.1. The competition for Eastern Conference All-Star reserves ahead of him include Embiid (sixth, 6.2), Haliburton (11th, 5.7), Harden (17th, 5.3), Young (17th, 5.3), Holiday (21st, 4.9), DeRozan (22nd, 4.8), Butler (25th, 4.6), Brunson (29th, 4.3) and Adebayo (34th, 4.1).

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