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Knicks' Julius Randle wants to have an impact on the defensive end, make his teammates better

New York Knicks forward Julius Randle is defended

New York Knicks forward Julius Randle is defended by Washington Wizards center Moritz Wagner during an NBA preseason basketball game at Madison Square Garden on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Julius Randle is well aware of what he does well — he was one of only eight players in the NBA to average at least 21.0 points and 8.5 rebounds per game last season (and the only one of them not named an All-Star) -- and what he doesn’t, or at least what his reputation says he doesn’t do well.

But Randle believes that he is a better defensive player than his critics think he is and said he will bring a focus on that end this season to prove it.

"I’m not really worried about scoring the ball,” he said. “20 [points] and 10 [rebounds], that type of stuff is easy for me. I want to make people better on the court. I want to bring everybody along. Guys like Frank [Ntilikina], RJ [Barrett], and Mitch [Robinson] and those guys and help them develop, because those guys are key parts to our team. The faster they develop, the better we’ll be, the faster we’ll be better. I wanna help them out.

“Defensively, that’s my focus. That’s where I want to make the biggest jump. I want to be able to impact the game on both ends of the floor and continue to add on to what I’ve done in the past and get better.”

Easy to say, but harder to accomplish. Randle had a defensive rating of 112 last season, not out of character with the 110 rating he has over his five-year career. But Randle said he is working to improve.

"For me, personally, I watch a lot of film,” he said. “I watch guys at my position, who I consider a really good defender, guys like Draymond Green, P.J. Tucker. Paul George is kind of like my big brother. He’s not at my position, but just his activity and how he impacts the game with his deflections and steals. So I just try to watch film and try to translate it onto the court. And then, Coach has a defensive scheme. We have a basis of how we want to play defense. So I just try to lock into that. I’m not where I need to be right now, but I’m just going to continue to make the effort to get better.”

Defense, part II

Part of the Knicks' hopes hinges on the improvement of Robinson, who was a revelation as a rookie, setting a franchise record for blocked shots. He has set out to expand his offensive game, but before that, the Knicks would like to see him get his defensive game right.

Robinson already is a premier shot-blocker. Knicks coach David Fizdale compared him to Rudy Gobert and Clint Capela as a defensive force. But in the first two preseason games, he has reverted to last season's habits of leaping to challenge any shot he can get near  and seeing fouls pile up quickly.

"It’s going to happen,” Fizdale said. “It’s not like it’s never going to happen. I thought his discipline on contested shots, he fouled probably three or four times against jump-shooters. we just can’t have those fouls, but we’re still going to have it from time to time. Again, preseason is for him to be able to work through that stuff."

Asked about it Friday night, Robinson put the blame on the shooters.

“Man, they kick their legs out,” Robinson said. “What can you do about that? That’s something I’ve got to work on. I’m going to work on it starting Sunday when we have practice. I feel way different. Last year I’d run into the guy. Now I jump past them and they do that. 

“Hopefully I get to the point where I just stand there and whatever happens happens. If they make the shot, OK, we’re cool.”

Silence is golden

The NBA has worked to straddle a tightrope this week after a tweet from Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey supporting the protesters in Hong Kong created a firestorm in China. It’s admittedly a difficult issue for commissioner Adam Silver. Protecting the freedom of speech and expression of its players, coaches and executives has been an open practice by Silver, but this one put at risk a huge market for the league.

Publicly, Silver has tiptoed in a move that has frustrated some. Chinese companies sponsoring the preseason games between the Nets and Lakers pulled their ties. From their hotel windows, the teams could see banners promoting the game being pulled down. But Silver has negotiated and some of the tension between the NBA and the Chinese government already seems to have been alleviated. 

And back home Steve Kerr, oddly, found himself mocked by President Donald Trump for his initial hesitance to weigh in on the subject.

"It was really surprising," Kerr told reporters. "But mainly just because it was me. Then you stop and you think, this is just every day. This is just another day. I was the shiny object yesterday. There was another one today; there will be a new one tomorrow. And the circus will go on. It's just strange, but it happened.

"If we had been thinking earlier, I was going to ride in on a tricycle," Kerr said. "With one of those beanies with the propeller -- because he called me a little boy."

Words of wisdom

Asked if he texted Kevin Durant to let him know his feelings after Durant’s critique, Marcus Morris said, “No texting going on. We’re cool. Not that cool.”

Work in progress

When the Knicks fell apart Friday night — they were outscored 50-17 in one stretch by a Washington Wizards squad that was barely recognizable -- they mostly shrugged off the loss as expected growing pains.

Randle said he’d never been on a team like this — nine new players added to the roster and almost all of them expected to be regular parts of the rotation.

“Yeah, it’s preseason,” he said. “There’s nine new guys, so we’re all learning how to play with each other. Second game of preseason, so I’m not going to look too much into it. I’m just going to look at the film and see how I can get better, how I can help everybody else get better. We’ll just keep going.

“I’ve never played with nine new people, changing a whole team in one year,” Randle said. “Nine is a lot. I don’t know how long it will take. We’ve got guys out here with the right attitude. We’re just going to keep at it. I’m not worried about it.”

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