“With the 7th pick in the 2014 NBA draft, the Los Angeles Lakers select, Julius Randle from the University of Kentucky.” Those are the words that began the alluring career of the 2020-21 NBA Most Improved Player, Julius Randle. He is the first Knick to ever win these honours.
Your 2020-21 NBA Most Improved Player and the first Knick to win the award, @J30_RANDLE!
— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) May 25, 2021
Julius Randle’s unfortunate Rookie season
He began his career playing in the purple and gold. Not the ‘great Lakers’ we all are accustomed to. He came during the tail-end of the career of the late, great Kobe Bryant. The Lakers weren’t able to make big-name signings during that time so it was the young players that got a lot of PT.
However, Julius’s rookie season ended fairly quickly. He broke his right leg just 5 minutes into his rookie campaign.
The Kobe Bryant Effect
Coming back from injuries, especially that gruesome, this early into someone’s career is a hard process. Luckily for Julius Randle, his teammate was all-time great Kobe Bryant. Kobe had just torn his Achilles a year prior and made a full recovery. That kind of injury ends careers but not for the Black Mamba.
Kobe Bryant saw Julius Randle in tears in a private room in the Staples Center. Instead of ignoring and keeping himself out of the situation, Bryant went to comfort him. He told Julius to sit and have a hard cry. To get it all out of the system as he did, and then move on ahead. A day later, after the surgery, a 19-year old Randle who took Kobe’s word to heart said that he isn’t going to feel sorry for himself. “Yeah, I’m not having any pity parties”, said Randle.
How Julius Randle revived his career with the New York Knicks
This bond had been cemented in his life. Even though Julius eventually moved on from the Lakers and had great success in New Orleans where he averaged 21 in his first season there. And now for New York, where he revived the extremely awful Knicks franchise by taking them to the playoffs. When he was first signed to New York, he was extremely ridiculed. The Knick fans hoped to sign Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving but ended up with only Julius Randle and a plethora of power forwards.
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) May 25, 2021
Julius did not let all this noise phase him. He averaged a career-high 24 points this season whilst grabbing 10 rebounds and dishing 6 assists a night. From behind the arc, he shot 41%, a huge improvement from the 27% last season. He also had a career-high in total minutes played even though this season was shortened due to the global pandemic.
Randle has credited all of his success to his idol, Kobe Bryant. He revealed a story he shared with Kobe. Kobe was a preacher of hard work. He told Julius, no matter in which city you are, you always need to get shots up before the game. A teaching the whole Knicks roster started to follow. The athletic director said Julius Randle reminded him of Kobe when he found the Knicks all-star practising at an open gym in Detroit late at night.
The passing of Kobe Bryant deeply hurt Julius Randle but he has managed to let the Black Mamba live through his game.