Julius Randle’s extended absence a Knicks concern with time running out before playoffs

Another game, another DNP for Julius Randle.

And as the hourglass nears empty before the playoffs, the questions about Randle’s rust become more relevant.

“I’m always concerned,” Tom Thibodeau said. “About everything.”

Julius Randle still hasn’t returned to the Knicks’ lineup since dislocating his right shoulder. Noah K. Murray for the NY Post

To be clear, Thibodeau always uses that phrase and wasn’t implying much about Randle beyond his usual Thibs-ism deflection.

But the coach acknowledged Monday, perhaps in a bit of a surprise, that he’d curtail Randle if the player was ineffective.

“You just deal with your reality. So when guys do come back, you see where they are,” Thibodeau said when asked about Randle when he comes back. “We’re always going to prioritize the team. So whatever contributions they can make to help the team, that’s where we’ll go.

“And if it doesn’t help the team then we’re not going to do it.”

Thibodeau didn’t operate that way last season in the playoffs, when Randle was frustrated and struggling while managing ankle pain.

Thibodeau still played Randle over 37 minutes per game in the series against the Heat, despite the power forward’s 41 percent shooting, high turnover rate and issues on defense.

It wasn’t until after the season that Randle and the Knicks acknowledged — through an announcement of surgery — that the ankle was a major problem.

Now there’s a different injury.

Wednesday is the two-month anniversary of Randle dislocating his shoulder, and Monday against the Pistons represented his 26th consecutive missed game.

Before tipoff, Thibodeau said Randle is “feeling better” and “ramped it up some” but still hadn’t been cleared for contact.

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In other words, he’s in roughly the same position as a month ago.

There’s little doubt Randle is pushing to return.

After all, he passed on surgery for the possibility.

And with high-stakes games on the horizon — especially when the playoffs begin in less than four weeks — it’s fair to worry about how Randle will perform after such a long layoff.

Julius Randle dislocated his right shoulder in the Knicks’ win against the Heat on Jan. 27. Robert Sabo for the NY Post

It’s more applicable to a ball-dominant playmaker like Randle than either Mitchell Robinson (who defends and rebounds) or OG Anunoby (who defends, cuts and shoots from a spot-up position).

Timing and chemistry is paramount for the player with the ball.

Without Randle and heading into Monday’s game against the sad-sack Pistons, the Knicks went 13-11 as Brunson emerged as a megastar.

And the precedents from Randle suggest a struggle in the beginning.

At the beginning of this season, he struggled mightily in every facet except rebounding.

Thibodeau blamed the lack of time to recover from his long layoff following ankle surgery, noting that the shooting rhythm was the biggest issue: “He puts a lot of time into that, working on his shot and things like that,” the coach said in November. “You take that away, it’s going to show. You take that away, it’s going to show.”

It could take time for Julius Randle to regain his form even after returning to the Knicks’ lineup. Charles Wenzelberg

Randle ultimately recovered his form but it took about five games of frustration and inefficiency, which was even after a full training camp and preseason.

This time, the turnaround will be a lot shorter, assuming he returns.

One positive is that Randle has been shooting and running for over a month, theoretically helping hasten the return of his conditioning and 3-point stroke.

But even as Randle strengthens the muscles around his shoulder and avoids re-injury by practicing without contact, there’s a high probability of pain when he comes back.

“It’s both ways. What helps the team and you don’t want to put a player in harm’s way, either,” Thibodeau said. “So it’s like — let’s just take it day by day. You guys know I don’t do hypotheticals. So we’re hopeful.”

Hopeful without a lot of questions — both about when Randle will return and how he will play when he does.

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