By design, Julius Randle’s role with the Knicks has been altered to some degree this season with the $104 million addition of true point guard Jalen Brunson.
Randle acknowledged Wednesday that “playing off the ball more” has been his biggest adjustment through the Knicks’ 9-9 start.
He and Brunson share the team scoring lead at 20.8 points per game entering Friday’s home meeting with the Trail Blazers. Brunson took over in the second half of Monday’s victory in Oklahoma City — with 23 of his season-high 34 — to help the Knicks complete a 3-2 western swing.
“It’s basketball, man. It’s as simple as that. It’s basketball,” Randle said when asked about his role after practice in Tarrytown. “[Brunson] is a steady player. Great pace. Great feel for the game. He brings a calmness to our team.”
The Knicks ran much of their offense the previous two seasons through Randle, and the power forward led the team each year in assists with a career-best 6.0 per game in 2020-21 and a slight falloff to 5.1 last year. Brunson is averaging 6.7 assists and just 1.7 turnovers per game through his first 18 appearances.
“Well, it’s different, each season is different,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said Wednesday when asked about Randle’s adjustment. “I think you have different personnel. So how does it all work together? Everyone has to sacrifice something for the team. I think that’s important to put the team first. And I think he’s done that.”
Randle netted a season-low nine points on 4-for-11 shooting and didn’t play in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Suns, but the 2021 All-Star bounced back and netted 25 with 11 rebounds the following night in the win over the Thunder.
“When I looked at the Phoenix game, it was a two-point game with three or four minutes left in the third quarter, and they went on a run. And the thing got away from us real fast, so I didn’t put him back in, in the fourth quarter,” Thibodeau said. “We had a back-to-back, five [games] in seven [days]. And so that was the reasoning behind that.
“But I think he’s done a lot of good things for us. We need him to play unselfishly and do all the things that he brings to our team. Sometimes it’s his passing, scoring, shooting, rebounding, defense, whatever it might be helping the team function well and I think our starters are, each night it’s someone different.”
Randle’s shooting percentage also has ticked back up this season — from a career-worst 41.1 percent from the field one year ago to 46.7 percent. From 3-point distance, he’s connecting on 33.3 percent, up slightly from 30.8 percent yet still below the career-best 41.1 percent figure he’d posted in 2021-22.
“Just making the game easy, try and make efficient shots and keep the flow of the offense going,” Randle said. “I think it’s the flow of our offense. Break it down, see more, especially in my position where shots are coming from [and being] responsible for getting good shots … figuring out what spots for most efficient shots.”
The 27-year-old Randle was among several players to deal with flu-like symptoms during the road trip, saying he was “honestly excited to get home” after pulling out three wins in five road games over the past week.
“It was good. To be above .500 on the road trip, West Coast, it was good,” Randle said. “Started to feel better as the trip went on. It’s good. You’re right. It could [have been] a lot worse.”