1. Julius Randle, rolling hard
The New York Knicks' methodical climb to league average in scoring efficiency has been one of the major slow-burn stories of the season. They have been an above-average offense for the past two months, and ranked third in points per possession in April. They have hit 39% from deep, behind only the Milwaukee Bucks and LA Clippers. Defense is the foundation, but offense turned the Knicks from scrappy curiosity to postseason problem.
Randle is the keystone. He is absorbing a huge scoring and playmaking burden so no one else is overtaxed. Randle has recorded the most isolations in the league, and the ninth-most post-ups, per Second Spectrum data. He has enabled a slow-down, low-risk style that minimizes turnovers and allows New York to set its fearsome defense. With Randle as battering ram, the Knicks play smashmouth basketball.
And Randle has been efficient. New York averages almost 1.1 points when Randle shoots via post-up or passes to a teammate who fires -- 22nd among 85 players with at least 50 post touches, per Second Spectrum data. He has been about as good on isolations.
As he grows more comfortable with Derrick Rose, Randle is spicing things up with occasional hard rolls to the rim:
The Knicks don't have the spacing for Randle to do that a lot; their centers clutter the lane. But Randle can jet through narrow corridors, and he's a canny playmaker on the move. It's a nice alternative to fading for 3s, and something that has caught defenses off guard as they toggle coverages against the Rose-Randle pick-and-roll.
The Knicks have poured in almost 1.25 points per possession on any trip featuring the Rose-Randle two-man game, 38th among 347 duos with at least 100 reps, per Second Spectrum data. New York has outscored opponents by 12.4 points per 100 possessions with Rose on the floor. That is not a typo. Among in-season trades, only the Brooklyn Nets' acquisition of James Harden has had a bigger impact than New York acquiring Rose.
Even with Rose on the bench, the occasional screen-and-slip can get Randle behind the defense -- and force emergency switches upon which he can feast:
Randle has a real shot at an All-NBA spot, and it would not be ridiculous for someone to put him on an MVP ballot. What a season.