Every season, it feels like there is no shortage of candidates for the Most Improved Player award.
This season is no different - Jerami Grant, Jaylen Brown, Christian Wood and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are among the players who deserve consideration - although it feels as though one player is starting to separate themselves from the pack.
That player? New York Knicks forward Julius Randle.
Averaging a league-leading 37.5 minutes per game, Randle is posting career-highs of 23.9 points, 10.5 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.0 steals per game. He's been the driving force in New York's success, leading the Knicks to a 33-27 record as of this writing. Not only does that set them up to end their seven-year playoff drought, it has them in the mix for the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference.
For more on Randle's MIP-worthy season, let's take a closer look at five key stats.
41.0: Randle's 3-point shooting percentage
It's by far and away the highest mark of his career.
In the first six seasons of his career, Randle averaged 1.5 3-point attempts per game and knocked them down at a 29.5 percent clip. Per Stathead, he was one of 349 players to fire up at least 300 3-pointers over those seasons. Of those players, only 19 - a list that includes the likes of Stanley Johnson, Elfrid Payton, Andre Roberson and Michael Carter-Williams - converted them at a lower rate.
This season, Randle is up to 5.3 3-point attempts per game while making them at a 41.0 percent clip. He's gone from being someone teams don't have to pay much attention to on the 3-point line to someone who can punish teams for leaving him open and heat up.
Put it this way: Randle has made four or more 3-pointers in 10 games this season. In the first six seasons of his career, he had a combined four such games.
The majority of Randle's 3-point attempts this season have been of the catch-and-shoot variety...
...but he is a threat to shoot off the bounce.
While he doesn't create 3s for himself in nearly the same volume as other players in the league, Randle has already made more pull-up 3s in 59 games this season (27) than he did in the first six seasons of his career combined (22).
Randle is an even greater threat to shoot from midrange off the dribble, which brings us to...
41.9: Randle's shooting percentage on 2-point pull-ups
Randle has turned himself into a solid three-level scorer.
According to NBA.com, around a third (33.2 percent) of Randle's field goal attempts this season have been 2-point pull-ups, and he's connected on a respectable 41.9 percent of those opportunities.
That pull-up is an important weapon for someone who generates as much of their offence out of the post as Randle does because it helps balance out his power game.
In addition to having the size at 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds to bully smaller defenders with his back to the basket...
...he can shoot over them with nifty step-backs and turnarounds.
He can even face-up, where teams have to respect his ability to both shoot and drive.
The result? Randle is among the league leaders in both post-up and isolation scoring this season, doing so at around league average levels of efficiency.
6.1: How many assists per game Randle is averaging
This is a big one.
Randle has proven to be a capable playmaker for others in the past, but he's reached a new level this season, upping his assist average from 2.8 in the first six seasons of his career to 6.1. That puts him in some elite company, with Luka Doncic (8.7), Draymond Green (8.5), LeBron James (7.9), Jimmy Butler (7.3), Ben Simmons (7.1) and DeMar DeRozan (7.1) being the only qualified forwards averaging more.
Most impressive of all: Randle has basically doubled his assist average without a significant spike in turnovers.
In fact, Randle is posting the best assist-to-turnover ratio of his career by a significant amount.
|Season (Games||Assists Per Game||Turnovers Per Game||Assist-to-Turnover Ratio|
The strides Randle has made as a shooter and passer showed in a key moment in New York's recent overtime win against Atlanta, a game in which he finished with 40 points, 11 rebounds and six assists.
First, his new and improved 3-point shot drew Hawks forward Solomon Hill out to the perimeter.
Second, the threat of him pulling-up from midrange drew an additional two defenders when he approached the paint.
Three, a well-timed kick out to Reggie Bullock led to a wide-open 3-pointer that basically sealed the deal.
Relatively simple stuff but highly effective.
5: How many triple-doubles Randle has
You guessed it - it's the most in Randle's career, breaking his previous career-high of three triple-doubles, set in 2016-17.
On Dec. 29, he had 28 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Julius Randle's (@J30_RANDLE) triple-double fuels the @nyknicks!- NBA (@NBA) December 30, 2020
28 PTS | 12 REB | 11 AST pic.twitter.com/c9G4xbaNSY
On March 13, he had 26 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists in a win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
🔥 26p, 12r, 12a for @J30_RANDLE- NBA (@NBA) March 13, 2021
🔥 Career-high 12 assists
Julius Randle's triple-double powers the @nyknicks! pic.twitter.com/vSXA0k6bOS
On March 19, he had 18 points, a career-best 17 assists and 10 rebounds in a win to the Orlando Magic.
👏 @J30_RANDLE dishes out a career-high 17 dimes in the @nyknicks thrilling win!- NBA (@NBA) March 19, 2021
18 PTS | 10 REB | 17 AST pic.twitter.com/38AvLX5i5j
On April 5, he had 19 points, 15 rebounds and 12 assists in a loss to the Brooklyn Nets.
19 PTS | 15 REB | 12 AST- NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) April 6, 2021
4th triple-double of the season. Let's keep working, Ju 💪 pic.twitter.com/vWFsfTnV0n
And on April 9, he had 15 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds in a win over the Memphis Grizzlies.
Barrett (20 PTS) & Randle (15 PTS, 11 AST, 10 REB) led the way in the Knicks' win 😤 pic.twitter.com/srC5sosDRv- NBA TV (@NBATV) April 10, 2021
In the process, Randle became the first Knick since Mark Jackson in 1988-89 with multiple triple-doubles in a season. He also now has the fourth-most single-season triple-doubles in franchise history, trailing only Richie Guerin (6), Micheal Ray Richardson (7) and Walt Frazier (8).
110.2: New York's offensive rating with Randle on the court
Given how much of a load Randle is carrying offensively, you probably won't be surprised to hear that the Knicks are much better offensively with him on the court.
However, how much better they have been might come as a surprise.
According to NBA.com, the Knicks are scoring at a rate of 110.2 points per 100 possessions with Randle in the lineup this season. With him on the bench, that number plummets to 105.3.
For context, that's the difference between the Knicks ranking 19th in offensive efficiency and 27th.
So the Knicks aren't exactly lighting it up with Randle on the court, but they fall off a cliff without him.
Plus, they've been good enough defensively - only the Los Angeles Lakers (106.0), Philadelphia 76ers (107.0) and Utah Jazz (107.4) have been stingier than the Knicks (107.8) on that end of the floor to this point of the season - to make up for their limitations offensively.
How far that'll take them in the playoffs remains to be seen, but it's helped the Knicks establish themselves as a team to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference again.
The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.