The Lakers are back in action tonight in summer league, facing off against the 76ers in the first round of the “tournament” that has become the second half of the LVSL.
And while the results of this game matter — if the Lakers win they advance, if they lose their summer league is over — I’m not really going to get worked up over what the final score is. If anything, I want them to win only so I get to see more of Julius Randle (and to a slightly lesser extent Jordan Clarkson).
Randle’s performance is, ultimately, the major takeaway from this team. While there are other players who have shown promise, it is the player who the Lakers selected 7th overall whose performance matters most.
In Randle’s first game he did not perform very well and looked like a player who had only signed his contract 20 minutes before tip-off while also doubling as someone who had not played much basketball in recent months. His timing was off, he looked a bit sluggish at times, and wasn’t able to find a rhythm.
In his second game, however, he looked more like the player who many think can have a good impact in his rookie season:
While that clip is just shy of 3 minutes, there are several things that stand out to me.
First is that Randle possesses a very nice combination of quickness and power. On several plays he uses a surprising quick step to gain an advantage on his defender and then is able to hold that man off or body up a second defender using his frame. Regardless of the level of competition, these two traits will serve Randle well as the way you create separation in this league is either through outstanding footwork or physical prowess. Randle seems to have the latter and, coincidentally, also flashes some of the former.
The second thing that stands out is Randle’s skill level and ability to play out on the floor. This is where the Zach Randolph comparisons seem woefully out of touch. Randle seems to prefer to step out to 15-18 feet, face up his man and use his dribble to attack the paint. Employing some good ball-handling and a nifty spin move, Randle is able to get to closer to the rim and use his soft touch to convert. Randle also showed off good awareness when creating off the bounce, spotting open teammates on the wing several times, especially when help came at him from the corner.
What is also clear from the clips above is that Randle isn’t close to yet being in “game shape”. You can see him breathing heavily and looking fatigued after playing more than 5 or 6 consecutive minutes. You can also see that there are times when he’s a beat behind in either getting to a defensive rebound or in making a rotation on the back-line of the D. The latter, of course, was one of the concerns about his game coming out of Kentucky. The former, however, is not as Randle was one of the more consistent rebounders in the nation. I expect to see his work on the glass improve as he finds his legs and gets his full timing back.
Overall, however, there’s a lot to like here. Randle looks quick and strong while having a nice touch around the rim. He seems plenty athletic enough to play at this level and has good size. His skill level as a ball handler and a passer seem to be fairly refined for a player of his size and those are things that should only get more crisp over time. And when you consider that he’s not played much 5-on-5 since the national title game back in the Spring, the hope is that his wind and timing will also only improve.
Of course, let all the caveats of “it’s only summer league” follow everything that I wrote above. We’ll see if Randle can follow up good play in Vegas with good play in Los Angeles, and San Antonio, Oklahoma City, etc, etc. The NBA season is long and the caliber of athlete and player he’ll find in the opponent’s jersey come November will not be the same he’s seeing in July. That said, he has the tools to be a good player. Hopefully he can continue to learn to use them as his rookie year unfolds.