Julius Randle’s huge Knicks season has him eyeing All-Star nod

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The NBA still has not announced whether there will be an All-Star Game this season due to COVID-19 restrictions. Whether or not it’s played, Knicks forward Julius Randle hopes to be named to the squad for the first time in his career.

Randle was averaging career bests in scoring (22.8 points per game), rebounds (11.0) and assists (6.1) through the Knicks’ 7-8 start, while tied for the second-most minutes logged in the league with teammate RJ Barrett (37.1 per game).

“You always strive to be the best version of who you are. You set goals and stuff like that. It’s obviously something that I want, obviously. But it’s not something that I’m focusing on,” Randle said on a Zoom call before Thursday’s game against the Warriors in San Francisco. “I’m really just focusing on this team, getting lost in the team, trying to figure out the best way, every night, to be the best version of myself and to give my team a chance to win and do everything I can to be prepared to give our team a chance to win on a night-to-night basis.

“Those things come along with it. Year to year, I try to get better, put myself in position to be the best version of me, so obviously the recognition is great … but I still feel like I have a long way to go and a lot that I can improve on.”

An NBA spokesman said Thursday that the league is “still determining what to do” after announcing in November that All-Star weekend (scheduled for Feb. 12-14) would not take place in Indianapolis, which will host the game instead in 2024.

“It won’t be in Indianapolis at the dates originally scheduled, but [we] certainly have not canceled it,” the spokesman said.

The NFL scrapped the Pro Bowl this year, but it still held voting and named rosters for the AFC and NFC. Many players in both sports have bonuses worked into their contracts based on All-Star designations.

Randle, for instance, would earn an additional $900,000 on top of his $18.9 million salary for being named to the All-Star team, according to Spotrac.com.

In addition to his improved offensive numbers across the board, the 26-year-old former Kentucky star also has assumed an expanded leadership role in his seventh NBA season and second in New York.

“Definitely more comfortable. A year of experience always helps,” Randle said. “Last year was the first time I was really put in a position like that and you’re going to have failures. That’s OK. You learn from them, you grow and get better.

“For me, that’s what it was. Everything I do I try to put the team first. It’s worked out for me trying to put the team first, trying to make everybody else better, making sure everybody is good or whatever it is. I just kind of get lost in the team, get lost in what the coach wants me to do, and naturally I’m able to play some of my best basketball.”

Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau also has praised Randle’s play at the defensive end of the floor, especially in the team’s stingy 91-84 win Monday over Orlando.

“That’s what I loved about that game. Just his grittiness, his sticktoitiveness,” Thibodeau said Wednesday about Randle. “He just kept going. His will. His rebounding was huge for us. Those two loose balls at the end of the game. Those type of effort plays, you know it inspires the team.

“I think that’s his biggest area of growth in terms of his game. Very gifted offensive player. We have all seen that throughout his career. Putting it all together now has been huge for us.”

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