When Julius Randle went down with a shoulder injury in late January, many feared that the New York Knicks’ season was going to go down with him.

The Knicks were in fourth place in the East at the time, but with a little less than half of the season still remaining at that point in time, the concerns were definitely valid.

Instead of floundering though, New York banded together. They have gone 16-11 since Randle’s injury, highlighted by seven wins in their last eight games. This hot streak has pushed them up to third in the Eastern Conference with a 44-28 win-loss record and they now trail the second place Milwaukee Bucks by only two games with 10 contests still remaining on their schedule.

Their most recent victory, a 145-101 drubbing of the Toronto Raptors on the road, was quite a statement win and highlighted the depth of this Knicks team as six players scored at least 15 points.


The absence of Randle has opened up several opportunities for New York’s remaining players to showcase their wares, but the biggest beneficiary has clearly been Jalen Brunson. He was already having a career-best season prior to Randle’s injury, but has found yet another level as he became their undisputed number one option.

The newly-minted NBA All-Star has thrived as the lead offensive option for the Knicks as he has averaged 29 points on 47.5% field goal shooting, 3.2 rebounds, 6.7 assists, and 0.9 steals in his 24 appearances since January 27. He has slowly crept into this year’s NBA Most Valuable Player race and while he may not win the hotly-contested award, he is likely to improve on his 12th place showing from last year.


An All-NBA Second Team berth seems like a realistic possibility for him as well, especially since he was able to cross the 65 games played threshold needed to qualify for individual awards earlier this week.

Although Brunson has been at the front and center of New York’s attack, he has been far from a one-man show over these past two months.

Brunson’s former college teammates at Villanova and current Knicks teammates Donte DiVincenzo and Josh Hart have stepped up too. They are similarly playing the best basketball of their careers over this stretch as their longtime familiarity with one another has paid off handsomely.

Since Randle’s injury, the six-year veteran DiVincenzo is averaging 21 points, 4.6 three-pointers, 4.2 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.6 steals. He scored a career-high 40 points, highlighted by 11 made three-pointers, in New York’s 124-99 win over the Detroit Pistons earlier this week.

Meanwhile, Hart has put up 11.9 points, 10.9 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 1.1 steals over this same run, including six triple doubles. The 29-year-old forward is currently fifth in the league in total triple doubles this season, sandwiched right in between Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James. This is even more impressive when considering that he has recorded all of his just over these past nine weeks.

Despite their strong play though, New York still needs Randle’s help if they are to make a deep run in this year’s postseason. A viable second option on offense is a necessity as it will be difficult for Brunson to continue scoring at this torrid pace once opposing coaches zero-in on him during a seven-game series.

If anything, this run provides enough evidence to help solidify Brunson’s place as the team’s first option. The establishment of a pecking order where he is number one and Randle is number two–versus the existing one where they are expected to coexist as 1A and 1B–should smoothen things out for this team. Randle’s poor performance in the 15 playoff games that he has appeared in over his career only supports this, especially when put in contrast to Brunson’s outstanding performance during last year’s playoffs.

These past few weeks have put the Knicks in a tough position with regards to their personnel and they clearly have to make some difficult decisions this coming offseason. In the meantime, they will have to make the most of what they have and strike while the iron is hot. The Eastern Conference race is currently wide open outside of the Boston Celtics and New York is in as good a position as they have been over these past few decades to make it past the second round for the first time since 2000.

The Knicks’ tortured fan base knows that opportunities like this one are fleeting and it will be exciting to see how this team responds come the postseason.