Julius Randle has long put up the sort of numbers that might merit accolades and awards, but it is not until this season that he has begun to be recognized. And he believes there is little mystery to why the honors are beginning to pile up — the most recent coming Tuesday when he was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Month for the first time in his career.
"It’s a great honor," Randle said following the Knicks' morning shootaround in Denver Wednesday. "As an individual, it’s a great honor, but it’s really a testament to everything we’ve done as a team. Same thing as All-Star or Player of the Week. You don’t reach those goals without all of our guys playing well and that’s having team success. It’s really a testament to our team."
There is little debate on that point. The Knicks had a nine-game win streak in April and went 11-4 in the month, moving up into fourth place in the East. With the results translating to team success, the 27.1 points, 9.0 rebounds and 6.3 assists that Randle provided have also pushed him into the Most Valuable Player Award conversation.
Being in the conversation is almost certainly as far as that will go with Wednesday’s opponent, Nikola Jokic of the Nuggets, the clear front-runner and a who’s who of NBA stars still between Jokic and Randle.
But Randle is happy to be recognized because it means that he’s playing for a winner for the first time in his career.
"I think honestly, it really has to do with the team success," Randle said. "When a team is successful and you’re winning and you’re playing well on a team that’s winning you get recognized. Honestly, that’s how it should be. I’ve never been a fan of losing. As a competitor I hate it. So I don’t want to be praised for putting up numbers on a losing team. I don’t think that’s great.
"Obviously, as an individual, it’s whatever, but as a team that’s what comes first. if the team is winning, we’re all having success, everybody is playing well, whoever gets recognized it’s amazing."
The Player of the Month award was the first for Randle but follows a Player of the Week and an All-Star berth this season. He became the first Knicks player to win a Player of the Month award since Carmelo Anthony in January 2014. He beat out other nominees, including the Washington Wizards tandem of Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal, Clint Capela of the Atlanta Hawks, Boston’s Jayson Tatum, Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid and Cleveland’s Darius Garland.
"It’s a testament to all the work that he’s put into it," Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. "It’s not only the individual stats. I think it’s easy to look at those and say he’s had a great month. But the most important thing is to not only bring the best out of himself but bring the best out of his teammates. And he’s done that. He’s impacted winning in a huge way."
But the Knicks didn’t all get recognized and Randle took particular offense at Thibodeau being just a nominee for the Coach of the Month award that went to Washington’s Scott Brooks.
"I was very surprised by that," Randle said. "There’s no way in hell he shouldn’t have been Coach of the Month. No disrespect to Scott Brooks. He’s doing an amazing job over there with Washington. Just the body of work with what Thibs has had us to all year and throughout the month. [It's the] nine-game winning streak, 11-4, the way our offense has gone and grown throughout the process of the season.
"Our defense, remaining one of the top defenses — we believe we have the best defense, but remaining one of the top defenses in the league. I don’t see how he didn’t win it. But it’s fine. If you ask Thibs the most important thing is winning games, so that’s all he cares about. That’s all we care about."
"We don’t get wrapped up in any of that stuff," Thibodeau said. "Happy for Scott. Thrilled for Julius, obviously. That’s the most important thing, our players getting recognized for winning. And that’s how I feel about it."