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Zion Williamson presents a one-of-a-kind challenge for Julius Randle, Knicks

Pelicans forward Zion Williamson drives to the basket

Pelicans forward Zion Williamson drives to the basket between Kings forward Chimezie Metu and forward Terence Davis in the second half of an NBA game in New Orleans on Monday. Credit: AP/Gerald Herbert

The Julius Randle "Remember Me?" tour continues Wednesday, rolling into New Orleans after his convincing reminder Monday to the Los Angeles Lakers that maybe they should have made a better effort to hold onto him.

The Lakers had renounced his rights, allowing him to walk out on them to clear cap space for LeBron James and an assortment of veteran pieces around James. Randle signed on with the Pelicans and spent one season in New Orleans before bolting to the Knicks as a free agent. And like the Lakers who had James as the franchise centerpiece, the Pelicans certainly have filled his vacancy with a piece they are happy to have, too, in Zion Williamson.

While Randle has emerged as an All-Star and the clear leader of the Knicks in his second season in New York, Williamson continues to ascend as the brightest young star in the NBA. And when the Knicks take on the Pelicans (25-29) it will mark the first chance for Randle to face Williamson.

"He's a great player," Randle said of Williamson. "Unbelievable with how he’s able to get in the lane and finish. You know he's a tough matchup for sure. But I’ll be ready for it."

 

While you can measure their statistics this season — Randle is averaging 23 points, 10.7 rebounds and six assists per game, and Williamson is scoring 26.8 points per game, grabbing 7.1 rebounds and handing out 3.7 assists — the numbers don’t quite describe the unique talents of the massive and explosive Williamson. Like Randle, Williamson has been converted almost into a point guard as the Pelicans have been without Lonzo Ball, who is sidelined with a hip injury. Given the multiple tasks Friday in a win over Philadelphia, he responded with 37 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists.

"That’s probably a good word to describe him — unique," Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. "It’s unusual because it’s power and speed. And usually, when you have the power, you don’t have the speed or if you have the speed, you don’t have the power, and he has both. Very skilled, puts a lot of pressure on you, dynamic playmaker. So we know we’re going to have to be ready and that’s a team that’s gotten better as the season’s gone along."

Randle put up 34 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as the Knicks (28-27) won their third straight game Monday in beating the shorthanded Lakers. That helped cover up what was a rare off night offensively for RJ Barrett. If Randle has something to prove to the Pelicans and against Williamson, so too does Barrett.

Barrett and Williamson were teammates for their one season at Duke before coming out in the 2019 NBA Draft. Williamson went No. 1 overall and after Memphis took Ja Morant at No. 2, the Knicks selected Barrett with the third overall pick.

"I love the guy we got, I know that," Thibodeau said. "RJ’s had a terrific season for us. He’s great to be around, great teammate, great to coach. He’s gotten better each and every day, gives you everything he has, puts the team first — you can’t ask for anything more than that. And I think he’s got a huge upside."

Notes & quotes: Ball will be a restricted free agent after this season and has been linked to the Knicks. Randle and Ball developed a close relationship in their time together in Los Angeles, and when Randle left for New Orleans Ball spoke of his disappointment on the reality television show "Ball in the Family." "Yeah, I saw it," Randle said. "We definitely were tight. We were a close group, that team, just a lot of young guys competing every night, sort of how this team is, we’ve got young guys and vets. Just a hard-playing team, competing every night. We really saw things turn around for us in the middle of the season and we were really winning games. So obviously it was tough leaving but, you know, everything happens for a reason."

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