There are usually very few positive takeaways from the type of 39 point loss the Lakers had to the Rockets on Wednesday night. After the Lakers trailed big early and found themselves down 18 points heading into the 4th quarter, the Rockets poured it on, nailing 8 of their 13 shots from behind the arc and scoring 46 points in the process. That offensive explosion led to frustration and anger from players and head coach Luke Walton following the defeat. More than one person implied the team just sort of quit.
While that macro view is more than justified, there were some positives in the micro. One, in particular, was the play of Julius Randle who scored a career high 32 points while grabbing 8 rebounds and dishing out two assists. It was a well rounded night by Randle, who was able to bully his way to the rim and finish through contact and over length — especially when playing C and in match ups against Clint Capela.
While Randle had several really nice plays en route to his career night, one play in particular stood out to me. It was early in the game and came out of an action the Lakers like to run a lot — a dribble handoff with Julius initiating. To set up this play, Clarkson has already brought the ball up the court, pitched the ball to Randle, and then gone to the corner:
As you can see, from there, Randle initiates a dribble towards Clarkson who works his way back up towards the ball. Randle will typically execute a handoff here, simultaneously giving the ball back to the guard and setting a screen to free up his teammate who would then turn the corner looking to get into the paint. Instead, though, Randle uses a nice hesitation move to feint the handoff, then turns on the jets to get to the paint and finish with his strong hand. And-one.
This isn’t the most complex play, but it is smart and instinctive. It plays against the scouting report and builds a counter into a pet play the Lakers run often. I know fans can get frustrated with how Randle, as a ball handler, often runs towards a teammate in order to initiate handoffs to free up his guard/wing. It’s unorthodox, can lead to him drawing fouls, and can sometimes be too limiting a play since it often just leads to a long jumper from Russell or Clarkson or Young.
Here, though, you can see how running simple counters out of that action can lead to good shots. If Randle does this more often, he might not just get more looks like the one he got above, but he may also free up his guard/wing more to actually take the handoff and do more with it than just step back and shoot a three or pound the ball in place while looking for a different action to develop on the weak side.
Again, this isn’t crazy sophisticated. But one of my chief complaints with the Lakers’ offense this season has been how often the team “runs plays” rather than “just playing”. It’s the latter which often leads to counters and improvisation within the scheme that can catch the defense off guard and create good looks. The above play from Randle is a simple, yet nice, example of that. I hope to see more of this in the future.