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NY Post
New York Post
25 Mar 2023

NextImg:Jeff Van Gundy: Julius Randle’s lack of poise could hurt Knicks in playoffs

There’s a fine line.

Passion and self-control lie on either side of that line, and Julius Randle is getting dangerously close to the wrong side of it.

Amid the Knicks’ three-game losing skid, Randle has earned a technical foul in each, and his on-court demeanor reached a boiling point during a 111-106 loss to the Magic on Thursday night.

Just before halftime, Randle got into an animated argument first with the officials then teammate Immanuel Quickley after he appeared to be fouled while driving to the rim.

Randle jawed at and had to be separated from Quickley as the third-year guard attempted to pull him away from referee Leon Wood, who assessed him the technical foul.

When it comes to toeing that line in heated playoff series and high-stakes games, one former coach is well-versed in its importance.

“Emotion and passion lead to better play, but a lack of emotional control and poise lead to lesser play,” Jeff Van Gundy told The Post in a phone interview Saturday morning. “To play well in the playoffs, to play well in hard-fought, highly-contested, close games, ultimately you have to have your best players have a level of poise that leads them to be able to play through rough patches of games or a tough loss in a playoff series and to bounce back. Poise is so very critical to be able to handle late-game pressurized situations.

Julius Randle argues with a referee on March 20.
Robert Sabo for NY Post

“I think a couple of years back in the playoffs [Randle] had some issues with that. I think he’s had to close games this year, had some challenges with that.”

Randle has followed his career-high 57-point effort in the Knicks’ loss to the Timberwolves (in which he earned a technical), with two subpar 15- and 23-point outputs in the subsequent losses to the Heat and Magic, shooting a combined 39 percent from the field with playoff positioning on the line.

It mirrors Randle’s struggles in high-stakes games during the 2021 playoffs, when he shot just 30 percent from the field in a first-round playoff elimination to the Hawks and unraveled in his temperament.

Van Gundy served as both an assistant and head coach during the Knicks’ successful 1990s and early 2000s squads.

Jeff Van Gundy

Jeff Van Gundy
Getty Images

The Knicks made the playoffs each season Van Gundy was with the team and were famously engulfed in emotional clashes with the Michael Jordan-led Bulls and Reggie Miller-led Pacers.

Van Gundy now serves as ESPN’s lead NBA color commentator.

Tom Thibodeau also was an assistant under Van Gundy with the Knicks.

But Van Gundy does not see Randle’s outbursts as something for his former colleague to solve.

“As far as what a coach can do, if this problem is to be corrected, it’s gonna be because Julius Randle wants to get it corrected,” Van Gundy said. “It can be punished by a coach or an organization. But it can only be corrected by the player.”

Though Randle’s tantrums threaten to derail a promising and overachieving season, co-star Jalen Brunson possesses crucial characteristics to Van Gundy’s playoff blueprint.

“Brunson is their best player and their most valuable player,” Van Gundy said. “He has tremendous skill and poise, and that allows him to function very well under pressure. But I don’t think him playing has anything to do with how Randle conducts his business. I think what it does do, if everyone has great role acceptance, they’ll play off of Brunson late.

Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle

Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle
NBAE via Getty Images

“It’s very important, Randle can be on the backside of actions, he’s really shot the 3 well this year. Everybody’s got to understand that, that whole idea of role acceptance is huge. Clearly, Brunson has developed into a tremendous offensive talent, who’s clearly their best option late.”

On the surface, a lack of a bona fide superstar figures to hinder the Knicks from making a deep playoff run and upsetting the elite teams in the Eastern Conference.

To that, Van Gundy points to perhaps the NBA’s biggest breakout performer this season.

The Knicks can go as far as Brunson can take them.

“Every time he’s been doubted about what level he can reach, he’s continued to improve,” Van Gundy said. “He would be the best chance they have on the roster for someone who could carry them to an improbable playoff series win. He combines great skill with tremendous poise.

“When you’re the best player, you need both to be able to function well in the playoffs. It’s gonna be hard, and teams are gonna focus in on you.

“You have to have answers skills-wise, which he does, but you also have to understand that the hard times, the periods of adversity, need to be responded to correctly and have answers.

“And he has enough skill and enough poise to be that guy.”