CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It would’ve been just talk, just an excuse from Julius Randle if he didn’t back it up.
But after six games of strong play, it’s clear Randle wasn’t blowing smoke.
His offseason ankle surgery, or at least the recovery from it, was a problem to start the season.
Not so much lately.
“I feel better, more like myself,” Randle said. “I told you guys it would be a day-to-day process, me not being able to do much in the summer.”
As sources first revealed to The Post, Randle was bothered by ankle pain and resisted attempts from the Knicks to rest as he toiled through the opening couple weeks of the season. He prides himself on availability.
But after the pain eased and his rhythm recovered, Randle, over a six-game stretch heading into Saturday against the Hornets, led the Knicks in scoring (24.8 points per game), assists (5.7), and ranked second in rebounds (9.5) behind Mitchell Robinson.
His field-goal percentage went from 27 percent in the first six games to 45.3 percent in the next six.
Not coincidentally, the Knicks won five of their past six entering Saturday.
“I feel like we’re in a good spot,” he said. “Still got a lot of work to do, but definitely trending in the right direction. Feels like we have an open mindset.”
From the time he started with the Knicks in 2019, there have been two key questions that have swayed Randle’s offense from woefully inefficient to All-Star level: is he hitting the 3-point shot? And, is he moving the ball or forcing tough shots when the defense collapses?
On the former, the efficiency on treys has been better, though not great.
On the latter, Randle has found a groove. Heading into Charlotte, he had back-to-back games with eight assists.
You also can’t accuse Randle of holding onto the ball too long.
His 2.92 seconds per touch is below his past three seasons with the Knicks, including the two All-Star campaigns.
“When I have the ball I command a lot of attention. And with that comes responsibility and I want to be somebody that not only plays for myself but makes my teammates better,” Randle said. “So if I can draw double-teams and kick out for shots, I’m going to do that.”
Randle underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle in June after spraining it at least twice toward the end of last season.
He was limited to off-the-court work for much of the summer and, after struggling earlier this month, said it was “naive” to believe he would bounce back right away.
Still, Randle has played every game and was second on the team in minutes before Saturday behind Jalen Brunson.
His field-goal percentage still hadn’t recovered and was below the Patrick Beverley line (40 percent) but everybody — including Randle’s coach — could see the improvement.
“You can see it. He’s feeling better and better,” Tom Thibodeau said. “I knew his rhythm would come around, the way he could score the ball. His shot is grooved now. You can see it the way it’s coming off his hands, he’s shooting with a lot of confidence, too. And that’s what I liked.”