‘I’m not going to shy away from it’

Knicks Julius Randle passes vs Suns

On Wednesday night, Julius Randle and the Knicks will take on Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets in Denver.

Jokic is near the top of most MVP conversations. Randle has a chance put himself more firmly into the discussion with a win against the Nuggets.

Randle was asked on Monday night if he feels he belongs in the MVP conversation.

“For sure, I’m not going to shy away from it,” he said after putting up 28 points, six rebounds and six assists in a win over Memphis. “For me, it’s about getting better from game to game, improving as a player. I’m not focused on it.

“The praise obviously is great and everything but I’m not focused on it. For me, all I’m worried about is getting better, keep leading the team game to game. Like I said before, our team, I feel like we can compete against anybody.”

If the Knicks compete with – and beat – the Nuggets on Wednesday and Randle leads the way, will that enhance his MVP candidacy?

Only the voters know the answer to that question. But it couldn’t hurt.

Jokic has been building a solid case for the award for much of the season. Some see Chris Paul as a candidate. Others view Joel Embiid and/or Giannis Antetokounmpo as candidates.

You don’t hear Randle’s name brought up that often.

But it’s worth noting that ESPN NBA analyst Kendrick Perkins has been touting Randle as an MVP candidate for the past few weeks.

The year-over-year increase in Randle’s 3-point field goal percentage and assist rate have been remarkable. So has the Knicks’ year-over-year win increase. If voters take the context of Randle’s full Knicks tenure into account, that will probably boost his candidacy.

As we’ve noted, Randle was the target of criticism from fans and media in New York after the Knicks’ 21-45, 2019-2020 season. Instead of wilting amid the criticism, Randle went into the offseason determined to come back a better player and help the Knicks win. He’s fulfilled both of those goals.

If Randle and the Knicks finish the season strong, you’d think that he’ll get some votes in the MVP tally. (Voting is conducted by a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters).

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Knick veteran Taj Gibson sees Jokic, Paul and Randle as legitimate candidates.

“You look at the body of work that he’s put together on a night-to-night basis, just being real professional, growing every night. Especially in a tough market,” Gibson said of Randle. “People don’t understand how tough it is to play in New York and he’s bringing a winning mentality back to the Knicks. You got to give him his credit. Julius has earned his credit for being in the MVP race. He deserves it.”

Here is how Gibson sees Jokic and Paul:

“He’s just real crafty. He has a really high IQ for the game. Let’s the game come to him. He’s just multi-faceted. He can dribble, put it on the floor. Shoot long range. And use both hands in the post. A guy like that, you just got to try to do your best just to fight him on different occasions, just knowing he’s going to make some tough shots. He’s been doing this for a while now. It’s good that he’s getting recognition but I wouldn’t sleep on Chris Paul just yet. He’s doing a great job.”


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