Toronto Raptors v New York Knicks
Joe Murphy

Julius Randle's performance against the Phoenix Suns Monday was nothing special... by the incredible standard he's set lately. He wound up finishing the game with 28 points, 16 rebounds and six assists in the victory, but those numbers are actually pretty pedestrian compared to the 33.8 points, 12.2 rebounds and 4.8 assists he averaged in the five games that preceded it. Greatness is becoming the norm for Randle lately, and the fans at Madison Square Garden are acknowledging that. At the end of Monday's victory, they showered Randle with MVP chants while he shot free throws.

It's not a new experience for Randle. He's gotten MVP chants from Knicks faithful before. In 2021, they were a pretty frequent occurrence. Of course, 2021 felt like a decade ago when he was going through a disastrous 2021-22 follow-up campaign.

Randle's offensive numbers declined in virtually every category a season ago. The magical run that led New York to the No. 4 seed in 2021 ended with the Knicks in the lottery a season ago, and Randle didn't handle it especially well. He frequently ducked media obligations and drew the ire of fans with his play. In January, when ESPN's Tim Bontemps asked him what message he wanted to get across to fans, he responded with four inflammatory words: "Shut the f— up." 

Randle might've gotten caught up in trade rumors if anyone was willing to take on his contract. He re-signed in New York on a four-year deal worth more than $100 million ahead of the 2021-22 season. A year ago, the Knicks likely had a serious case of buyer's remorse.

But now? Randle has recaptured much of what made him so special two seasons ago. His defensive effort is back to where it was when he won Most Improved Player. He's not making 3-pointers at quite the same rate he was then, but he's thriving in the paint again. He remains a stellar passer for a forward, and that has given the Knicks a less predictable offense now that Jalen Brunson and RJ Barrett can share some playmaking duties.

Randle might not be the face-of-the-franchise-style superstar the Knicks hoped for when they re-signed him, but right now, he's playing like the kind of All-Star that can keep them in the playoff race. At 20-18, the Knicks are only half of a game out of the top six in the Eastern Conference, and the 63 points he's scored in their past two games have helped them snap a four-game losing streak and start a two-game winning streak.

That's not quite where the Knicks were at Randle's peak, but it's not especially far off, either. Randle is even joking about the lows of last season. "I don't even remember that," he quipped when asked about an incident last season in which he gave the fans in New York a thumbs down. He's come full circle since then, earning back the MVP chants he lost a season ago as he's helped the Knicks return to playoff contention where they belong.