The Eastern Conference Player of the Week Award came to Julius Randle on Monday. That followed his first All-Star berth in March.
And more honors are pouring his way. The Knicks southpaw power-forward freight train has turned the NBA on its ear in his seventh season.
Randle is all but assured of being named among the forwards to one of the three All-NBA teams. He’s the leading candidate for Most Improved Player. And former Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy said on national television over the weekend Randle should be on somebody’s MVP ballot.
Not crazy considering Randle has played in 57 of 58 games, and the Knicks would probably have a dozen victories without him. Instead Randle has led the Knicks to a 31-27 record, and on an NBA-high six-game winning streak entering Tuesday’s home game versus Charlotte.
Randle prefers not to talk personal accolades but team victories — as stressed by NBA Coach of the Year candidate Tom Thibodeau.
“Honestly, it’s really about the team,’’ Randle said Tuesday before the Knicks hosted the Hornets. “Me and Thibs will talk about it all the time. Thibs tells the team all the time: When a team does well, everybody’s value goes up. We’re playing well as a team. As a unit, guys are making me look good. I’m doing my best to try to help other guys out. It’s really just a tribute and an honor to our team, how well we’re playing right now. We’ve just got to keep it going.
“Winning takes care of all that. Everybody gets recognized on a higher level when we’re winning.’’
Randle’s elevation is illustrated by the events that occurred prior to the 2020 trade deadline. The Knicks offered Randle to Charlotte in a package for Terry Rozier. It’s unclear who backed out of the deal, but it came amid internal talk about whether Randle should be shipped before making a decision on exercising the final non-guaranteed year of his contract in 2021-22.
Now it’s uncertain if the Knicks can even lock him up long term. Once the Knicks exercise the guarantee, they can negotiate an extension this summer.
However, Knicks president Leon Rose is unable to give him max deal under the collective bargaining agreement parameters — only a percentage bump from his $20 million final year. Randle’s reps may consider testing the unrestricted free-agency waters instead in 2022 — even if it’s with full intention to re-sign. Randle is on record saying he wants to be here long term.
From trade bait to untouchable, Randle is the leading candidate for mot improved. Asked if it was a backhanded compliment, considering he was viewed as a disappointment last season, Randle laughed heartily.
“You are funny as hell,’’ Randle said. “As far as most improved, I don’t take it as a backhanded compliment at all. That’s what you’re supposed to do as a professional. For me, as someone who takes the game seriously, really loves the game of basketball, just looking at the trajectory of my career, and every year I’ve done something to improve. It would be a great honor, obviously. I just worry about trying to add something to my game, come back a better player.’’
Randle secured the player-of-the-week honor by scoring 30-plus points in each of four contests. He keyed wins over his former teams the Lakers, the Pelicans (twice) and racked up 44 points and 10 assists in his hometown of Dallas.
“That’s what you want from your best players,’’ Thibodeau said. “He’s set the tone from the start. His numbers speak for themselves. The most important thing is the team winning and him bringing out the best in his teammates in every aspect of the game — from shooting to the way he starts games to playmaking to defense to the way he works every day.’’
On Sunday, in a 33-point performance versus Zion Williamson and the Pelicans, Randle became the first Knick to score 30-plus points in four straight games since Carmelo Anthony in 2014.
But Anthony never had a season like this. Randle is a triple-double threat every night. He’s got five on the season. Anthony never had one as a Knick and has notched just one in his career.
It should be noted the Lakers’ 2013 lottery pick has never played a single playoff game. And now with Garden fans chanting “M-V-P’’ as soon as he hits the free-throw line, he’s looking forward to the postseason when the Garden is expected to raise its attendance limit to about 5,000 fans (20 percent capacity.).
“I’m sure it’ll be nuts,’’ said Randle — who is averaging 23.7 points, 6.2 assists and 10.5 rebounds. “It already sounds like a fully packed, sold-out arena just with the 10 percent capacity in there. It’s already crazy. We’re having a lot of fun with it playing in front of our fans, experiencing the energy of the city, so when it gets to that point, we’ll be ready for it and our fans will be ready for it. It’ll be a lot of fun.’’