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Knicks’ Julius Randle wins NBA’s Most Improved Player award

May 26, 2021 GMT
New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) celebrates with head coach Tom Thibodeau after an NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics in New York, Sunday, May 16, 2021. (Vincent Carchietta/Pool Photo via AP)
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New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) celebrates with head coach Tom Thibodeau after an NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics in New York, Sunday, May 16, 2021. (Vincent Carchietta/Pool Photo via AP)
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New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) celebrates with head coach Tom Thibodeau after an NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics in New York, Sunday, May 16, 2021. (Vincent Carchietta/Pool Photo via AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — Julius Randle is in his seventh season, later than the usual Most Improved Player winner.

He is aware of the notion that by then, players have already shown what they are in the NBA and they’re not going to get any better.

He also knows he’s not that type of player.

“For me, it’s always about continuing to improve,” Randle said.

He did that across the board this season and was rewarded Tuesday with a runaway in the voting for the award after leading the New York Knicks to the playoffs.

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Randle received 98 first-place votes from a panel of 100 sportswriters and broadcasters. His son, Kyden, delivered the award to Randle while his team was on the practice floor after he became the first Knicks player to win the Most Improved Player award.

He wants to be the second, too. Randle said his goal is to win the award again next season.

He doesn’t know if he could actually get it again, but he plans to make another improvement regardless of the recognition.

“For me it’s about constantly looking at when the season’s over at the end of the year, did I get better?” Randle said.

The NBA says the award is “designed to honor an up-and-coming player,” which Randle isn’t. He averaged 21.4 points during the 2018-19 season for New Orleans before signing with the Knicks as a free agent. Last season was a disappointment for him and the team, but he worked relentlessly to make sure it wouldn’t happen again.

He averaged 24.1 points, 10.2 rebounds and 6.0 assists, ranking in the NBA’s top 20 in all three categories, while playing an NBA-high 37.6 minutes as what coach Tom Thibodeau has called the Knicks’ engine.

Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Russell Westbrook and Nikola Jokic (who also did it this season) are the only other players to have a 24-10-6 season.

Beyond his stats, Randle was the clear leader of a Knicks team that had missed the playoffs the last seven years and wasn’t expected to make them this season. Instead, they went 41-31 and earned the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference.

But Randle had a disappointing postseason debut in Game 1, shooting 6 of 23 for 15 points in the Knicks’ 107-105 loss to Atlanta on Sunday. That came after he had two of his three 40-point games during the season against the Hawks.

Randle earned 493 points in the voting to finish well ahead of Detroit’s Jerami Grant, who earned the other two first-place votes and had 140 points. Michael Porter Jr. of Denver was third with 138 points.

Randle’s biggest leap came from the 3-point arc, where he shot 41.1% after never hitting more than 34.4%. He also had six triple-doubles, half of his career total.

His hardworking style fit perfectly under Thibodeau, and Randle expects that will continue.

“For me, it’s just about what am I willing to do and what am I willing to sacrifice,” Randle said.

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