Julius Randle’s $117 Million Gamble Paid off for Him but Is Costing the New York Knicks Dearly

Just when things couldn’t get worse for the New York Knicks, Thursday happened. Thanks in part to a horrifying effort from Julius Randle, the Knicks fell 102-91 to the lowly New Orleans Pelicans, dropping them to 22-24.

While many players on New York’s roster are deserving of blame, the All-Star Randle is the reigning Most Improved Player Award recipient. Not to mention, the 27-year-old will be receiving a hefty raise beginning next season, one which the Knicks might already regret offering.

Julius Randle had his worst game in what’s been a bad season

Facing his former team, Randle was hoping to snap New York’s two-game skid. Instead, he had one of his worst performances of the season.

In 29:29 of game time, the eighth-year vet registered a measly four points on 1-of-9 shooting. He also finished with three turnovers and a team-worst plus-minus of -26. In fact, all five of New York’s starters were in the negative, with four finishing at -21 or worse.

At first glance, Randle’s four points seem like an outlier. But Thursday marked his sixth game with nine or fewer points. Just 10 days ago, the 6-foot-8 forward scored two points in a win over the San Antonio Spurs.

The numerous single-digit nights are a disturbing trend for the 2020-21 All-Star. But his season as a whole has been deeply concerning. Through 44 games, Randle is averaging 18.8 points on 41.1% shooting, the latter of which is his worst over a full season. For comparison, the former Kentucky Wildcat scored a career-high 24.5 points on 45.6% shooting just last year.

While he’s still done some good things, like averaging a solid 10.0 rebounds and 5.1 assists, his underlying numbers are bleak. His 102.0 offensive rating is the lowest since his first full season with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2015-16. He’s also been worth just 0.1 offensive win shares.

All that to say, Randle has been a hair better than a replacement-level player on offense. Not. Great.

Randle was right to sign the extension when he did

Fresh off of a career season, Randle had to make a serious financial choice. There was little doubt New York wanted him there long-term, but did he want to wait an extra year before cashing in?

Ultimately, Randle made the right call to sign his extension when he did.

On Aug. 26, the Knicks star inked a four-year deal worth $117 million. The contract kicks in after this season and lasts through 2025, with a $32.4 million player option extending it to 2026.

However, if Randle waited a year and signed his contract this summer, he’d be eligible for a max deal, which for him would start at $34.7 million. Factoring in the eight percent annual raises, the five-year max deal he’d be signing would’ve netted him just over $201 million.

That was, of course, assuming Randle was deserving of a max contract.

Randle has seen precipitous declines in nearly every stat this season, though none more so than scoring. So imagine asking for a max deal after your worst shooting season since you were 21? Although his decision to sign last summer had more to do with fear of injury, the All-NBA forward can now take solace in knowing his financial future is secure, even after a poor season.

The New York Knicks may be feeling buyer’s remorse

At 22-24, the Knicks have problems that stretch beyond Randle. But it can’t be a great feeling to see your franchise star rapidly decline before his mega extension kicks in.

New York wasn’t wrong to extend Randle when it did. If anything, the All-Star was receiving more of the blame for not waiting a year and extorting his team for even more money. But the Knicks also weren’t anticipating their number one scoring option to basically become a league-average player.

By signing Randle, New York committed to him being one of its key players in its resurgence. Though simply put, it’s hard to feel as comfortable with that now. And with R.J. Barrett in line to receive a lofty raise this summer, much of New York’s cap space will go toward these two players — for better or worse.

For all we know, Randle’s season could simply be a fluke. But what if last season was the fluke? After all, his career-best 41.1% rate from three is well-above his 33.5% career average. And considering his field-goal percentage last year (45.6%) was significantly lower than his field-goal rate over the previous four years (50.8%), one can say that without the 3-ball, Randle is more of a scorer in the ‘teens rather than a club’s number one option.

If that’s the case, then Randle’s extension — previously regarded as a steal — might actually be a gross overpayment that sets the Knicks back for years.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and contract figures courtesy of Spotrac.

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