Julius Randle has won the 2020-21 Most Improved Player Award, the league announced Tuesday. Randle led the New York Knicks to the postseason for the first time since the 2012-13 season by playing the best all-around basketball of his career.
Randle averaged 19.5 points, 9.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game last season, his first with the Knicks, and compared to previous winners, his statistical improvements were relatively minor. He jumped to 24.1 points, 10.2 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game this season, but he is winning this award not for posting better numbers, but because he has evolved from a player who posts empty stats into one that contributes to winning basketball.
Randle's poor shot selection was a major problem for New York last season, but his 3-point percentage has risen from 27.7 percent to 41.1 percent this season. That has helped turn him into a far more dangerous playmaker. His assist average nearly doubled this season as he evolved into a significantly more selfless player, and his defense was one of the biggest reasons the Knicks managed to finish ranked No. 4 on that end of the floor.
But it was his team's improvement that sealed this award for Randle. The Knicks had been in the lottery seven years in a row prior to this season. Their horrible 21-45 record last season didn't even earn them an invite to the Orlando bubble, and after being spurned by Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in favor of the Brooklyn Nets, the Knicks had hit an all-time low in terms of league-wide reputation. They were a laughingstock that few believed could ever lure a superstar to New York.
So they developed that superstar instead. Randle's talent was evident in stints with the Lakers and Pelicans, but neither team re-signed him after adding more prominent forwards in LeBron James and Zion Williamson. He was discarded in favor of the sort of players that the Knicks originally hoped to add. That made the two a match made in heaven. Randle needed a team to believe in him, and the Knicks needed anyone with talent to believe in them. The result has been one of the best Knicks seasons in recent memory, and this award is the culmination of that success. Randle has grown into the star New York had been waiting for, and he did that growing in a Knicks uniform. He is not only a worthy choice for Most Improved Player but the face of one of the NBA's marquee franchises moving forward.