The signing of Chasson Randle may have been a minor move that most could have missed with the blink of an eye, but his seamless fit within the offense has been a bright spot in an otherwise fruitless season in New York.
Randle impressed with his game against Orlando. His stats were not overly eye-popping (seven points, five assists and five rebounds in 25 minutes), but it was his defense and the manner in which he racked up those assists that backed up his plus 27 boxscore.
Of those five assists, two of them stood out and showcased his vision and understanding of the defensive set-ups. Randle's first assist was a pick and roll with Willy Hernangomez. He had the speed to get DJ Augustin on his back and force Bismack Biyombo to help and rise for a block. Randle wrapped a pass around Biyombo's back to Hernangomez for a wide open layup. Randle also used his speed to exploit a mismatch against Biyombo on the perimeter. He drove, and in that motion, Derrick Rose had plenty of space to come down the lane for a hand-off while Biyombo was out of position and unable to recover.
Randle is averaging 1.63 points per possession when he is the ball handler in the pick and roll and finishes the play with a pass. That number drops to 0.95 when it includes plays where he is the finisher, but that is still rated as a very good clip via Synergy.
It's clear as a ball handler, Randle has quickly developed a good understanding of where Kyle O'Quinn and Kristaps Porzingis like to pop to. Randle has also been able to find targets standing at the top of the three-point line where they are wide open, something that many have been critical of Derrick Rose for not doing.
The Knicks had a good thing going with Brandon Jennings on the offensive side of the floor. Early in the season, he developed a feel for where Kristaps Porzingis needed the ball. His sub-par defense was perhaps hidden by his effort to follow his man all over the court. Knicks fans all over Reddit were keen to increase Jennings' minutes due to his pressure, his chemistry and desire to push the pace. Randle clearly is not on Jennings' level and perhaps does not have the upside to ever get to that standing, but in he's got the attributes to run an offense off the bench adequately, and may be a better help defender than Jennings ever could be.
Derrick Rose has had some efficient nights, with a better finishing rate around the rim than his previous three seasons. He's even found success with his mid-range jumper. What he hasn't done well is find the open man (often Porzingis) at the top of the key when he drives in the lane.
Porzingis usually takes two or three of his shots from above the break, but they can often be three feet behind the arc. Rose creates the space for Porzingis, but doesn't look for him at the top of the key. Credit where it's due, Rose does look for Courtney Lee, Lance Thomas and Justin Holiday in the corners. Randle, on the other hand, has shown quickly that he can get Porzingis a three at the top of the key without the prodigy having to rush.
His defense was an improvement over what Rose and Jennings had shown. The biggest downfall for the Knicks this season has been the point guards not being able to get around on-ball screens, which has left the paint embarrassingly wide open for rolling centers. Randle (albeit on a small sample size) has allowed 0.85 points per possession when he is guarding the ball handler in a pick and role, which is an average rate. Rose has actually defended the pick-and-roll at a better rate, but the eye test shows Rose struggling to get around screens at least four or five times a game.
Randle has the strength and desire to commit himself to getting around screens. He may not have the physical tools to become a genuine stopper, but he could become a rotation piece and force opposing offenses into taking more shots outside of the paint. He's also shown a knack for getting his hands around the passing lanes and poking balls loose.
Against the Pistons, Randle played 19 minutes and scored 12 points, all from behind the arc. His half-court heave was perhaps his best highlight to date. The only other game in which Randle has played meaningful minutes for the Knicks was against the Nets where he recorded four points in 12 minutes.
At the very least, Randle projects to be an above average three point shooter who fits in well within the offense and has shown a willingness to improve his effort on defense.