After an uncertain start from the gate, the The Knicks they turned their 2022-23 campaign into a solid redemption story after last year’s disappointing finish. It was a joint effort from top to bottom, but it deserves special recognition Julius Randle and Jalen Brunsonthe team’s two leading scorers and All-Star candidates.
Randle has performed well in every game this season and leads the team with 24.4 points per game, along with 10.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists on 54.8 percent shooting from two and 33.4 percent from three. Brunson missed just three games, averaging 22.5 points, 3.6 rebounds and 6.3 assists on 49.5 percent shooting from two and 39.9 percent from three.
Without their production, New York would be in the middle of the lottery instead of the seventh seed. Unfortunately, the NBA will probably recognize only one as an All-Star this season given the strong competition and the status of the Knicks. Which of Randle and Brunson gets that honor will depend on a number of factors, including how complex their individual positions are and how the coaches view the options. But it begs a simpler question: Who was the better player this season?
The case for Randle
As mentioned, Randle is New York’s iron man, appearing every night, playing 1,639 minutes halfway through the season, 173 more than Brunson and anyone else on the Knicks, and second-most in the NBA. It’s amazing to do that and consistently connect 24-11-4.
It’s a good thing he’s so resilient, too, because his production can’t be easily replaced, at least on this Knicks team. New York scores 3.1 points per 100 possessions with Randle on the court, a dead average team without him.
Self-creation at a high level with a strong all-around game will have that effect, and Randle has arguably drawn more double teams and been more effective against them. The Knicks are actually a little worse statistically with Brunson in the game, perhaps because he spends more time playing with units off the bench, because Immanuel Quickleythe production is similar enough, or because it’s a weird clip to ignore.
Brunson is certainly a well-rounded player, but Randle plays bigger roles on defense and on the glass while also creating for others. Head coach Tom Thibodeau will often hide Brunson from opposing stars, while Randle has been a force in the paint and on switches. Randle not only leads the team in scoring, but also in rebounds, actually grabbing 1.5 times more than the second-place man, Mitchell Robinson.
Speaking of rebounds, he’s on a six-game streak of 15+ boards, pulling down double-digit rebounds in 18 of his last 19 games. There’s also the 13-game streak in which he’s averaged 30 points a night, and the fact that he has additional 30 and 40 points against Brunson.
The case for Brunson
Peak Randle may be better than Brunson, but on a given night the latter puts forth a more consistent, composed effort. Randle has a habit of resting a bit, falling asleep on defense or lulling himself into some bad offensive attempts. When Brunson plays, he’s 100 percent effort all the time, completely reliable. This can be seen in his efficiency and control of the ball. Brunson is a sharper shooter than Randle, who has played 30 games under 50 percent shooting over his 19.
Brunson also has a far better assist-to-turnover ratio, while Randle is 15th in the league in turnovers and ranks among highly-used stars. The stats don’t tell the whole picture, but anyone who has watched the Knicks knows that their point guard is generally a more reliable decision maker.
Although the scoring title belongs to Randle, the key time comes when Brunson takes over the Knicks. With the game within three points and three minutes or less left on the clock, Brunson leads the way with 54 points in 46 club minutes to Randle’s 23.
Not only is Brunson the best shooter on the bench, but he also shot 54.8 percent, while Randle made 17 of his 23 at the free throw line, shooting 25 percent from the field in crunch time.
As for Brunson’s big season streak, he’s currently in the midst of nine games in which he’s averaging 31.7 points and over 40 minutes per game on 50 percent shooting from all range. He also has the edge over Randle according to FiveThirtyEight’s player ratings.