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Knicks' Julius Randle makes latest statement for All-Star Game spot

The Knicks' Julius Randle shoots over Chicago's Thaddeus

The Knicks' Julius Randle shoots over Chicago's Thaddeus Young on Feb. 3, 2021. Credit: AP/Charles Rex Arbogast

Theo Pinson has not been the attraction at the microphone courtside for any Knicks postgame interviews, but Monday night he stepped to the microphone like a master of ceremonies introducing the main act, announcing a simple statement.

As teammates celebrated Julius Randle, Pinson said, "If this man’s not an All-Star, there’s a problem."

Pinson may have simplified it, but Randle had just completed his own latest and strongest version of the argument, pouring in 44 points to lead the Knicks to a third straight victory. It was the latest in what has been a season-long argument as Randle has emerged in his second season in New York as the clear leader of an improving franchise.

"The first thing is it’s hard not to put him in the game," RJ Barrett said. "What else does he have to do? The man’s an All-Star."

But the argument is also not quite as simple as what Pinson stated or Barrett voiced. While Randle has made a compelling case for his candidacy, there are no assurances that he will actually break through and get a spot on the Eastern Conference squad.

The fan voting ended Tuesday, but the last round of voting results showed Randle in a distant eighth place among the East’s frontcourt players. Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid are far ahead of the pack. Then there are almost certain additions among the coaches' vote in Jayson Tatum and Khris Middleton. With coaches given a ballot that calls for two backcourt players, three frontcourt players and a pair of wild cards, it’s still a tough path for Randle.

Start mixing in the likes of Bam Adebayo, Nik Vucevic, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris and Domantas Sabonis among the frontcourt and wild-card ballots and it’s a hard road for Randle to slip in. Does Jimmy Butler take a spot despite his injuries? Has Randle done more for New York than Gordon Hayward has done in Charlotte?

What actually could help the Knicks this time around is that Randle is having an impact on winning and the team is surprisingly ahead of teams like Miami and Toronto in the standings right now. Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said he will not lobby for Randle in phone calls to his coaching counterparts and pointed to that as the strongest case.

"I think his game speaks for itself," Thibodeau said. "I know a lot of guys, they frown upon [lobbying]. The hard thing is this, when you look at all the players that are deserving there’s not enough spots. And so when it comes down to the end and you’re selecting often times guys are pretty much equal and are deserving. Then you go to the next criteria: impact on winning. I’m hopeful that people recognize what he’s doing for this team and he will be recognized. He’s having a terrific season for us."

And he is. Look at the numbers of a Vucevic, for example, and he’s ahead of Randle in scoring, rebounding and shooting percentage. So the additional factors are the injury-riddled Magic are just 10-18, but Vucevic also is a two-time All-Star who might draw an automatic vote. Jerami Grant has seen his production explode for Detroit, but the Pistons have been the worst team in the league.

Randle has put up great numbers before and has never been put on an All-Star team and it would be hard to argue that he was wronged. But this season he came in not only in a different level of conditioning, but also bought into everything that Thibodeau has preached. While the numbers may look similar, he is a different player in style and substance.

"Honestly, I just felt like I kind of let the team down last year," Randle said. "I felt like I didn’t have my best performance. A lot of it wasn’t because I didn’t put the work in. I just had to go through a year of growth and a year of experience of being in the position I was in.

"For me, I just wanted to come back and be a better player. And to do that and come back with Thibs and those guys and [former Kentucky assistant and current Knicks assistant Kenny Payne] and come back and be in a position I was put in, I was prepared for it. I knew what I had to do. A lot of people may have written me off. A lot of people may have had their doubts or whatever in me. And that was just motivation, that was fuel. For me, it was just coming back a better player and a better teammate than I was last year."

Robinson completes hand surgery

Mitchell Robinson will be out until after next month’s All-Star break after having surgery Tuesday to repair a broken right hand. The Knicks said Robinson had the procedure at the Hospital for Special Surgery and would be reevaluated after the All-Star break, which is scheduled for March 5-10. Robinson was hurt last Friday in Washington when he banged his hand trying to block a shot. The Knicks have won both games in his absence. Robinson shot an NBA-record 74.2% from the field last season and was hitting 66%, tops in the league, when he was hurt. His 1.52 blocks per game rank ninth. — AP

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