Julius Randle Flashing Defensive Potential on Switches

Darius Soriano —  October 31, 2016

To say Julius Randle is playing well to start the season would be a massive understatement. Through three games, Randle is scoring 15 points, grabbing nearly 7 rebounds, and dishing over 3 assists a game. He is shooting 67.9% from the floor and has a PER of 21.6. It’s a fair argument to say that over the team’s first three games, Randle has been the Lakers’ best player.

Most of the gains mentioned above are on offense, but that should not obscure some of the defensive improvement Randle is showing. No, he’s still not a “plus” defensive player overall, not when he can still stand to make real strides as an off-ball defender who is making early rotations and being a real deterrent at the rim. Over time, if Randle is going to be considered a real two-way threat, these areas of team defense will need to be improved. There’s no way around that.

But, I think as is the case with Randle through his first two seasons, many are too quick to point out all the things Randle’s not doing (or not doing well enough) rather than crediting him for where he is actually is making strides. With that in mind, one area in which I have been impressed with Randle this year is when he’s been asked to switch onto wings and defend in space.

Here is a possession against the Rockets from opening night. Randle got switched onto Harden on the wing and Houston promptly cleared the entire side to let the bearded one destroy the the switch (as he often does). Thing is, it didn’t happen. Randle squared up Harden, gave a bit of ground to discourage a drive, then timed his contest of Harden’s step back jumper perfectly to force an airball:


The thing which impressed me most about the above play was that Randle actually showed improvement from a possession earlier in the game. At the end of the 1st half, Randle was in a similar situation as the one above, but at the top of the key. Instead of contesting well, though, Randle challenged Harden’s shot with his own left hand and, in doing so, crossed Harden’s body which led to there being contact and a foul. Harden went to the line for 3 FT’s. Now, look above again. This time, Randle correctly challenged the left handed shot with his right hand and slid by him to avoid contact.

In this next play, Randle is again isolated against Harden. Maybe James remembered the play from just 2 minutes prior and decided he was not going to settle for another jumper. Harden quickly attacks Randle off the dribble, but Julius does a good job of sliding with him, not reaching, then challenging only after Harden leaves his feet. The result? A huge blocked shot.


Similar to the play against the Rockets is one which occurred against the Jazz. On this play, Randle ends up isolated against George Hill who had been killing the Lakers all night. Hill did not attack Randle the first isolation chance, but after getting a return pass, he did so quickly and, what looked like, effectively after a nice pump fake.

Notice how Hill attacks Randle’s front foot and looks to be clearly by him for an easy layup. Randle, however, does not quit on the play. Rather than reaching or committing a foul, Randle trails the smaller Hill and then, just like he did vs. Harden, challenges the shot once it’s up and meets it at the glass for another huge block.


I know these are only three plays. And if you sift through every defensive possession where Randle is in isolation on a switch, you will find some clips which don’t work out in his favor. To focus on this, though, would be to miss a pretty big point: most offensive teams want this switch to happen. They want your big man defending in space against a primary ball handler and shot creator. They want this because more times than not, the offense will win this battle. Randle, though, is showing he can thwart these plays.

This is important for a variety of reasons, but none more so than this simple progression: 1). the Lakers want to play small down the stretch of games and they want to do so with Randle manning the middle 2). one of the most frequently run plays by teams in crunch time/when they need a basket is a P&R 3). unless you are a master rotating team who can defend this action perfectly, simply switching is the preferred option 4). if Randle is going to be the lone big on the floor, he’s going to be attacked in this action more than any other player.

Now, what happens if Randle can defend this action well? That’s right, they become a better defensive team at the end of games.

Again, Randle has a ways to go as an all around defender. But some players never show the aptitude he does when switched onto and isolated by a wing. He’s showing the quickness, strength, timing, and recovery ability to be able to bottle up ball handlers in space on the wing. This is not a small thing and if he can continue to do this well it opens up a lot of defensive possibilities for the Lakers.

Darius Soriano

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43 responses to Julius Randle Flashing Defensive Potential on Switches

  1. Totally agree. I like what i seen of Randle so far. My only gripe is that he needs to rebound a little more. And it was great seeing him hitting the dagger on opening night GOINg AND USING HIS RIGHT. From the other thread. This team will fight it will not quit. Last night the difference was Westbrook who is playing out of this world. He is going to have a monster season i have no doubt about that. We are going to lose a lot of games especially with this murderous scedule to start the season. But i think the team will turn it around somewhat later on the season. Team still adjusting to a lot of stuff at the same time. No Kobe new coach new system new players ect ect… But im encouraged by what i seen son far.

  2. BigCitySid10552 October 31, 2016 at 3:45 pm

    Agree completely. Happen to mention the same thing on Twitter earlier today. Randle is letting his play on the court speak for him…unlike a few of his more talk-a-tive teammates. Needed more touches in the 2nd half.

  3. The Lakers are not there yet defensively but their rotations and all around defense has improved a ton. Last year was a nightmare to watch in the defensive end. It was a nightmare to watch everything but that defense or lack of effort on it was atrocious. Even Young is triying and actually having some impact on that end of the floor. Who would’ve thought?

  4. Randle was one of 9 players to average a double double last year and he did it in the shortest amount of playing time comparitively. I don’t know what kind of NBA player he will finally be but he has me curious.

  5. I would really like the chance to see a small ball lineup of Nance, Randle, Deng, Ingram, and Clarkson to see how that lineup works on both ends of the floor. I can’t recall seeing this lineup in preseason or the first couple of games, but if the Lakers are going to be playing small ball, then this would seem like the best balance of defense and offense to me. With this lineup, there’s enough outside shooting and ball handling to keep defenses honest and there’s enough size, length, and foot speed with all of them to play solid defense and switch out on the perimeter.

  6. A Horse With No Name October 31, 2016 at 7:37 pm

    Very good post. I appreciate your on point observations regarding Randle’s impressive strides. He’s on his way to being a good defensive player as your examples show. Offensively he is playing with so much more control as a finisher, ball handler and creator for others. And yes, he’s been the best player in the first three games.

  7. Randle is starting to look like how he played in college; with more comfort and confidence. Credit the coaches in knowing this is exactly what he needs in order to flourish in the NBA.
    Like O’Angelo and Ingram, Randle needs the ball in his hands to develop a feel for the game. In time I would like to see them become go to guys by committee; i.e. a one, two and three punch with any one of them take over the game when needed.
    They’re all special and positionaly bring different talent to the game can affect the outcome from different angles.
    Another insightful write up Darius.
    Go lakers

  8. Kevin Pelton
    His debut was impressive, and not even so much because of the 9-of-11 shooting as the playmaking for others (a team-high six assists) and the ability he showed to play center down the stretch and switch on James Harden when the Rockets ran pick-and-roll. I wrote last year  that Draymond Green should be a model for Randle, and while it’s obviously not realistic to expect him to get to that level as a defender, that was sort of the role he played as a center..

  9. A Horse With No Name October 31, 2016 at 10:00 pm

    Randle’s ceiling is more LeBron Lite than Draymond, given his rare blend of power and serious speed, rebounding, handling and creating–as I’ve written before. If he can be that, then he’s going to be a key piece for this team as it begins the road back to contention.

  10. After watching three games, I was discussing with my son his assessment.  Well, it appears that we have same observation.  There is talent but raw talent worst than the 90 Lakers better than last season.  There is no chemistry, it appears that they youth are the one managing the veterans than the other way around.  D’AR and Julius are too eager to show off their talent on one on one skill but short in execution and sometimes good and sometimes awful.  The bottom line, they lost the game.  I prefer Ingram, he is just quiet but contributes and commits less mistakes.  Here are my closer 1 Clarkson 2 Williams 3 Deng 4 Black 5 Mozgov.  You need big bodies and proven talent to close the game.  If you go on raw players, then it is just preseason all over again.  When are we going to get tired of losing? Challenge them to man up now than babying them forever. Sorry for my harsh opinion. When you are a Laker, you can play like Luke, got to be better than the scrubs of ’07.

  11. A Horse With No Name 
    Stop the madness… please!

  12. Darius since Randle was rated the 96th best defensive forward out of 99… there is nowhere to go but up.

  13. A Horse With No Name 
    He will never be a good defensive player nor will Russell. What the Lakers are hoping for is that they become proficient defensive players and can play decent NBA level defense.

  14. Laker Old Timer “man up now” ??? Byron Scott, is that you?

  15. Disagree.  
    Randle can absolutely be a good defensive player as long as you aren’t expecting him to provide weakside shot blocking.  I think what the film demonstrates at this point is that Randle has great physical tools with which to handle switching and rotations and man defense.  Those are pretty important skills for the modern NBA and it wasn’t clear until the last three games that Julius could handle them.  As far as the counting stats are concerned through three games he is averaging a block and a steal which is pretty good for a 21-year-old.  I don’t see why he can’t build on that.
    Russel is going to be more limited but stopping nba point guards is a team project anyway and he has the smarts and the length to be effective in a competent non-byron defense.  If I remember correctly he led all rookies in steals last season and he’ll probably finish just under 2/game this year.  His issues are more often of concentration and inconsistent effort leading to breakdowns.  Russel’s game is most like Curry’s or Lillard’s but he is four inches taller than those guys which gives him at least the potential to be a good team defender.

    The defense sucked last year for a lot of reasons but there isn’t enough data at this point to say that either Randle or Russel are innately substandard on that end.  Last year there wasn’t a lot of evidence to support the assertion they even knew what defense was.  Three games in this year they still make a lot of mistakes but we are already seeing them make good plays on D that I honestly wasn’t sure they would ever execute before.  Who would have predicted that Julius could switch onto James friggen Harden and stop him for a few possessions at the end of a close game?  Not I.  Neither is either one ever going to be a DPOY (that’s going to go to Ingram) but if they are smart and hardworking and well-coached they have the tools to be good on a consistent basis within the next few years.

  16. MT87 
    Plenty of data so lets quit trying to paint rosy pictures and pump sunshine.  The same advantage that Randle has on offense is his shortcoming on defense. Too small to cover real bigs and not fast enough to cover perimeter players. 

    Russell is just too slow of foot to cover real PG’s period. 

    Both have to become huge offensive + type players to outweigh their defense minus play at the other end of the floor period.

  17. fern16 
    I will give you that Fern they are improving on defense. Thats is about the extent of it… improving nothing more.

  18. BigCitySid10552 November 1, 2016 at 4:59 am

    LordMo A Horse With No Name Nick Young appears to be the Lakers best backcourt defender, amazing what a difference a year makes. But with that said, it just points out another need which the team will have to address.

  19. I thought this was a pretty good post.  It’s good to see Randle being able to cover a guy like Harden.  Although I think Randle has been at his strongest out on the perimeter where his speed is a major plus.  Randle has been fairly good at keeping between his guy and the rim.  
    I don’t ever expect him to become a shot  blocking monster.  Really the thing that would impress me would be consistent team defense.  I’d like to see him get better at reading plays while off the ball.

  20. His role in the team should be defined. Defend, rebound, hand the ball to Russell. We all saw the games, he is a turnover waiting to happen. Its a matter of time, teams will figure out his only 2 moves and we go back to the same old story of not having a jumper or a right hand.

    I am not being negative, i just think that roles have to be defined for complementary players and not to have the illusion that they are the go to guys. We need to develop Russell and Ingram. 

    The NBA proved that stars win games, not systems. Worriers and San Antonio systems would’ve never worked if they didnt have the stars. 

    We must develop stars. Randle will never be a star, but he have good strong skills must be used to the benefit of Russell and Ingram who clearly have strong potential to be stars.

  21. By the way, according to stats.nba.com  Randle PIE is 14.6 which is less for example than that of Tarik Black at 15.3, and lou Williams at 15.2. Now, that might change as the season progress, but as of the first 3 games, he is not the best laker.

  22. LordMo MT87 I honestly don’t know what you are talking about when you say there is plenty of data.  We have one season of data and it came during the Kobe farewell tour with Byron Scott as the head coach.  If you ask me that is some awfully noisy data.  If you want to treat that data as deterministic you can, but I can’t see a rational reason to do so.

  23. John Citizen He’s a turnover waiting to happen and yet Russell has been a bit turnover prone as well and yet you say his role should be to hand the ball off to Russell? Not knocking Russell on it, just making a point. Look, for all intents and purposes this is his second year in the league (a few minutes in his rookie year doesn’t count since he missed the entire year with injury). His turnovers are mistakes that younger players make, same mistakes that even Russell is making. These are the growing pains of a younger team. Randle will be a star, how big a star depends on him though.

    To say his job is to defend, rebound, and hand the ball off though is a total slight against his skills. Much of Randle’s gifts are what he’s capable of doing on offense, but the kid needs time to develop, polish his game, learn to make better decisions and become less turnover prone. That doesn’t happen by completely taking the ball out of his hands and pigeonholing him into a highly limited role. If that’s the case, may as well just give Kwame Brown a call or find some basic forward that can only defend, rebound, and knows how to hand a ball off and nothing more.

  24. LordMo MT87 While Russell is slow to cover PG’s, honestly which guard in the league isn’t? All of these blow by guards blow by other blow by guards. They all have a hard time sticking in front of each other. It’s just the way it is. What Russell has on those guys and needs to learn to use is the 6’5″ body and 7′ wingspan he has. When he learns to get those arms out, get his body positioned right, take a half a step back and take advantage of that length, he’ll be an improved defender. Ultimately, he’s still going to need help, all teams need to help defend opposing point guards, especially the elite PG’s. Shutting down Westbrook, Lillard, Curry, etc can’t be done by any one player.

    With that said, while the Lakers defense overall hurt last year, Russell was actually one of the Lakers better defenders even when not quite being an average defender. That was his rookie campaign though. You can’t treat these kids like they’re guys who have been in the league 5-7 years. When you treat the raw product as if it’s finished then you have no room to allow for improvement.

    We saw with Jordan Clarkson, last year he was a terrible, terrible defender. Probably worst on the team not named Lou Williams or Marcelo Huertas. This year he’s much improved. He’s worked on his angles, he’s gotten stronger, he’s improved his stance, his technique in the offseason. Small changes that made big dividens. But these are things that come with experience. Give the kids time.

  25. adamv37 Until Deng and Ingram figure out how to make a 3 consistently, this lineup unfortunately won’t work.

  26. John Citizen Williams and Black are reserves who play very well in a limited role but it would be insanity to treat them like they are our best players.  Randle is playing as many minutes a night as Williams and Black combined and he is doing it against starters.

  27. fern16 Once the Lakers learn help defense, learn to help the helper, that will elevate them significantly. That’s when they’ll go from bottom of the barrell to playoff basketball.

  28. He doesn’t set screens!

  29. JackConrad Of all the things, that’s what you take issue with? He’s not really being asked to set screens. They’re asking Black and Mozgov to do that because they’re so wide bodied. Centers are slower footed than forwards and guards have an easier time blowing by them than forwards, especially with forwards becoming more and more fleet footed.

  30. A Horse With No Name Randle lacks a certain fluidity to his game, lacks the length and while he has the ability to handle the ball like a guard, lacks the point guard instincts and a few other elements that LeBron has to be LeBron Lite. He’s definitely more Draymond Green with the potential to be better than him. The comparison was Lamar Odom in Zach Randolph’s body and that’s exactly what he should be looked at as. More Zach with the ability to handle the ball and pass.

  31. fern16 I’m sure those rebounds will go up considering he averaged a double double last season. That Utah game is hurting him statistically right now.

  32. Guess I’d better look closer. He slips every screen I’ve seen him set without contact or without even making the pursuit change direction. And yeah I agree with another post…that his weakside defense is pathetic.
    Still I believe he can be a real asset for the Lakers.

  33. JackConrad

    It is kind of irritating these days if you are used to traditional basketball where they set REAL screens.  The NBA has evolved into a real cat and mouse game because of the overwhelming prevalence of the Pick and Roll offense and the very effective way the guards use it.  

    As such, we see defenders hedge and do other things to neutralize the PnR. Likewise, we see the offense making adjustments to the defense by having the screener SLIP the screen for example.  

    Many of the screens these days are these lame slip screens to cheat the defense and get the roll man rolling early. The old goal of getting a guard open by ACTUALLY PICKING his man with a hard screen has been replaced by a good number of guys slipping the screen.  Often, the guard doesn’t even use the screen either faking off of it or going the opposite direction the screen would have opened up.  

    I feel that the true screen is still a very effective offensive tool and I think it still has relevance if teams would use them more.  

    That said, I don’t think Randle has an egregious issue with avoiding contact, being soft, or setting crappy screens.  I think it’s just how the offenses are trying to jump the PnR defenses these days.

  34. John Citizen

    Deng has out best Plus-Minus last game and he was terrible.  Numbers get noisy sometimes…….

  35. John Citizen

    I agree with the role defining.  Its a work in progress and the coaching staff is still tinkering at this point.  It’ll come

  36. LordMo

    True!!!!!  He has had a couple of unforeseen blocks at the rim this year……… Let’s see how he progresses…….

  37. From a philosophical perspective, perhaps we should all embrace the fact that Randle is such an unknown quantity at this time.  Yesterday’s tweener or guy without a position is todays POSITIONLESS PLAYER.  

    Randle may not have the BEST handle, best NBA length, best speed, best jumper, etc…….  But he may well have one of the better COMBOS of these things…..Jack of all Trades–Master of None is not necessarily a bad thing at this point.  If he can master a couple of things and still be a Jack of the others, this guy could really be a valuable contributor in multiple facets of the game.  

    As has been said, this is essentially his 2nd year in the league, first year back to jumping off his right foot naturally (as is his preference as a natural Lefty).  We are seeing definite growth.

  38. Clay Bertrand JackConrad Good point as well. I haven’t seen Randle set too many screens but with the slip screen in the little 2 man game to confuse the defense and force them to try to react to the one or the other, that would be understandable as to why he would do as such. If the play calls for him to roll to the basket and he wants to get the jump on his own defender, I can see why this would be the case. His defender would be busy trying to rotate off to Russell and Randle would give the slip and dart to the basket or off to a different angle away to free himself up for a pass and an open look.

  39. Clay Bertrand JackConrad

    The purpose of screen action is to get players open. A “hard” screen could be used or a slip screen. As long as its creating openings its effective. So if the defense wants to over commit then the slip screen is a perfect counter. Or if the help defender is laying back to close the path the basket then a hard screen works best. 

    Plus if Randle with his quick feet is slipping the screen then his defender has to jump out on the ball handler but quickly retreat to find Randle. That could open space for Russell (for example) as his man may not have recovered yet. It’s all a chess match. 

    But at ultimately Julius needs to be diving to the rim. Let Moz and Black set those hard Bogut-style (AKA moving) picks.

  40. jlawsonswi John Citizen
    I like Randle bringing the ball up the floor and initiating the action. It takes Russell off the ball and puts him in position to catch and shoot or catch while making a move to the rim. 
    Also I think Randle on the ball is a counter to defenses keying in on Russell. Luke’s desired offensive attack involves multiples players being able to handle the ball. Randle in transition can pay dividends as well. Unfortunately the sloppiness will be there. But repetition is needed to clean it up.

  41. MT87  I was just making a point as Darius was quoting Randle’s PIE numbers as an indication of his good play. Granted if Black is starting, he would foul out in 6 min.

  42. jlawsonswi I feel ok Russell turning over the ball trying to make a play (fancy sometimes) than Randle stopping the ball and going ISO on his 2 moves, Straight left or right to spin back to left.

  43. I agree with all who said we should wait on Randle, he is 21 after all. Also, i will be gladly admitting i was wrong about him if he actually stops the Iso plays and start defending in rotations.

    Having said that, i still strongly feel that Russell and Ingram clearly, and by a long way, our most skilled players and should eat first to the fullest at every game.