Julius Randle’s Make or Break Season is Here

Darius Soriano —  August 7, 2017

He is a power forward who does not shoot threes (not yet, at least). He’s not especially long and is not a classic “big” defender who patrols the back line as a paint protector. He is a power player who loves his face up game. A player who, though very much left hand dominant, loves to drive hard to his right hand on initial moves. He is 6’9″ 250 pounds of down-hill, runaway train who does his best work in the open court.

In other words, Julius Randle’s game is not what you would expect. Not from a “modern” NBA power forward. Not in general. He’s unconventional in most every preconceived notion of style and game for today’s NBA at the PF position. And I love him for it. Give me Tasmanian Randle in the bunker next to me any day and let’s go to battle.

Randle, though, is entering his 4th season. No longer a pup in the NBA, he’s at the stage where, either a breakout is coming or he will soon be labeled a guy who “is what he is”. This point in his career has come fast. That’s what happens when you break your leg and miss your entire rookie season, then play your second year under a head coach who’s approach to offensive basketball was as modern as an abacus while also being on a team/part of a franchise celebrating a legend as part of a farewell tour.

None of this is to excuse Randle from anything. It’s just to provide the context for where he is now: entering a year where he is contract extension eligible and one where he will be a restricted free agent at the end of the year. Purely from a financial standpoint, this is a huge year for Randle.

It’s more than money, though.

As noted above, though only 22 (he will be 23 in November), the perception between “upside” and “established” is narrowing. Randle improved a great deal last year, both statistically and in overall effectiveness. But the eye test showed a similar approach and arsenal as the one he showed the previous year. He was just better at it. It will be hard for him to escape the questions of his lack of a right hand or how comfortable he looks shooting long jumpers until those aspects of his game actually show up. And until that happens, he’ll be dogged as the same guy he’s been, even if he’s actually better.

Defensively, too, there are even more strides to make. He’s very good at switching onto guards/wings and being able to contain the dribble or contest shots. He has shown he can rotate to get blocks at the rim, but he’s not in position often enough and can get too focused on his own man instead of balancing his help responsibilities with his personal match up.

Further, the Lakers will have choices to make in the summer of 2018. They will be pursuing two “max” level free agents, targeting the biggest names there are on the market (LeBron and George are givens as primary targets, Westbrook and Cousins will also be names mentioned should both become FA’s). However, the team doesn’t yet have the cap space to chase more than one max guy. And getting there actually isn’t so simple.

They will need to clear roughly $25 million to get to $60 million in space (approaching what they’d need to sign two max guys). As stands, there are 3 players the Lakers can look to off-load to create that space: Deng, Clarkson, and Randle. The Lakers are, reportedly, confident they can trade Clarkson. Deng can be waived via the stretch provision to create space, but trading him outright without attaching a high level asset will be difficult. If the team trades JC and stretches Deng, they’d still be about $3 million short of getting to that $60 million in space (assuming a $101 million cap).

This brings us to Randle. His cap hold next summer will be $12.3 million. If the Lakers need that cap space, could he be traded too before the summer even arrives? Could his qualifying offer get revoked and the team just let him become an unrestricted FA (a la the Spurs and Jonathan Simmons this summer)? Could Randle end up being a cap casualty? These are real questions, even if they sound a bit absurd on their face. I mean, when was the last time a team let a guy of Randle’s talent walk for nothing or to be used as fodder to clear cap space*?

The math is the math, though. And while we’re a long way from that, next summer will be here before we know it. At this point, it’s up to Randle to show he’s ready to take the next step in his career and get closer to becoming the player his talent level says he has the chance to become. His opportunity really is now.

It is easy to see what Randle doesn’t do well; maybe even easier than to see the things he does do well. There’s a hint of recklessness to the things he’s good at. Playing downhill and in the open court, defenders bouncing off him like drywall bouncing off the Juggernaut running through a house, lends itself to a certain perception. It makes it seem as though his effectiveness is not skill based, that his ability to succeed is determined by his physical gifts.

Randle, though, can play. I mean, he can really play. When he’s dialed in and processing information quickly enough that his reactions are instinctual, he can be a terror. We get flashes of this ever handful of games. The time is here for him to give us more than flashes, however. I think he can do it. I am a believer. But, if he isn’t able to, his future with the Lakers is in question.

It’s a make or break season for Julius Randle and I can’t wait to see which way it goes.

*D’Angelo Russell is waving in the corner.


Darius Soriano

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to Julius Randle’s Make or Break Season is Here

  1. I truly believe that now that Lonzo is a Laker, watching Randle’s and Ingram’s game develop will be the best part of this season. If they keep on their expected development path, maybe the Lakers won’t need two max free agents…

    6+

  2. I have said a few times that I think Randle is a guy playing in the wrong era. He would have looked better in the 1990s, when teams were trying to find another Charles Barkley. But we’ll see.

    3+

    • RR, I wouldn’t give up on Julius just yet. If he improves to an average defender at his position and develops a serviceable midrange or three point shot, he will be a good player. Is that development within the realm of possibility? Certainly. Would that be enough to keep him on this roster come next year? Probably not.

      Many people make a big to-do about Randle’s poor right hand, but I can think of one recent Laker PF that made do always going left. In his last effective seasons, Odom had a decent midrange and three point shot that kept opponents honest. Obviously, if Randle becomes anywhere close to Odom, that’s a big win for the Lakers. For what it is worth, comparing Randle and Odom’s age 22 seasons, Randle outperforms Odom in nearly every statistical category. My biggest concern is that Randle’s ceiling is outside of his window with the team. I have a hard time knowing whether he is a good fit with our team before he becomes who he will become as a player.

      2+

      • Odom only played 29 games at 22, and had an unusually bad year by his own standards, and then only played 49 games at 23. After that he had a pretty consistent run until he was 31. Odom was well ahead of Randle in their respective age 21-seasons.,

        I am not giving up on Randle, and as I have said many times he was a reasonable and safe pick at 7. But I have never seen him as being likely to be a difference-maker, and I still don’t. I hope I am wrong.

        As to whether they will keep him, obviously that depends on several unknowns. Also obvious: if Randle meshes well with Ball, the FO will be more likely to keep him.

        8+

        • To nitpick, Randle at age 22 had a statistically comparable season to both Odom’s age 24 and 25 seasons (per 36). The caveat to Randle’s age 21 season is that that was his first in the league after a major injury. Looking at other top power forwards statistical profiles, Randle looks good. Zack Randolph and Paul Millsap’s per-36 minute stats are close enough. Randle is consistently the best rebounder and assist man. Maybe he is anachronistic, but maybe he is like so many other young players still finding his league legs. I am starting to see Darius’s points, that Randle’s limitations are so evident that we can miss his strengths. I don’t think anyone expects Randle to be the superstar, but third banana on a championship team could be him. I am trying to convince myself that we should trade/sacrifice him if the right opportunity comes along. But I feel more conflicted about that decision than losing Russell. Can’t wait for him to prove all of us that he can be that Swiss Army knife that he shows flashes of.

          6+

          • The Lakers were one of worst teams in the league, while also being top 6 in pace. That’s a goldmine for producing stats, particularly per 36 minute stats. In Lamar’s age21-season, the Clips were 22nd out of 29th in pace. Randle is nowhere near the player Lamar was at that age, despite what the stats may indicate.

            1+

          • Look, the Lakers were horrible the past 2 seasons, someone had to get the stats, that’s why this kind of comparisons bug me. For example, D’Angelo is not (and won’t ever be) better than Wall, or Westbrook, or whatever, even if their same age stats were favorable to DR (someone has to shoot, or the ball will bounce at someone’s direction, good stats on a horrible team are misleading). DR is slow, doesn’t have killer handles, not a particular great playmaker, so IMO, good stats on a bad team classic player.

            I’m afraid that the same aplies to Randle… he’s not a savant post player like Randolph, so forget about that. Forget Odom too, completely different players… Maybe Millsap, this I can see, but the guy has a great bb iq, don’t know if Randle will be able to match it.

            4+

  3. Every body writes like the future has happened. Any of these events could happen. Randle plays lights out, the lakers want him. Randle does not improve the lakers don’t want him at any price. Randle is just ok the team sees value in resigning him at the right price. Or a rookie challenges him for playing time and beats him out.

    6+

  4. The fact that we are having this discussion is why I really dislike the path the FO has chosen to take. The Lakers are a team that has all of the talent concentrated in their young players (Lopez is a one year rental). They will develop in fits and spurts and will be predictable in their unpredictability. On average, one can say that certain skills should develop by certain times, but in the real world players develop on different schedules. If the Lakers really were all about developing their youth the past few years, we would have a better handle on how good they may become. Instead the Lakers have done their level best to feature the veterans at the expense of player development.

    Even next summer may be too soon to add max level players. If Ingram learns a faster release and starts hitting his 3’s, how badly will the Lakers need two more wing players? Even if Kuzma really can hit 3’s with the rest of his skills he will still need a couple of seasons to put on enough weight to play the 4. Randle will be needed until then to do the dirty work of playing around the basket and pulling down rebounds and putting shots up in traffic. Just once, I would like to hear a shared vision between Luke and the FO of what the Lakers would like to be as a team and how they are getting there. Dumping players to sign superstars is not a comforting vision.

    6+

    • I gave you a +1, but have a bone to pick with your first sentence.

      The front office didn’t have a real choice. This is the Los Angeles Lakers we are talking about. They have had a regrettable last 4 years and the city demands something flashy. Also, Magic and Rob had to point to something other than ‘wait a couple more years’ and you may see some improvement’. I do agree that if our kids look like they are working really well this year we may want to hold off on 2 max free agents next summer. If we have a budding superstar and 2 potential all-stars on the squad, we may want to rethink ‘clearing the decks’ to get 2 players. That space may be needed to sign the people we already have the following year.

      4+

      • Thanks for the rec, my issue with Magic in particular is that at one time or another he has talked about trading everyone but Ball and Ingram. The logical outcome is that everyone but Ball and Ingram will be auditioning for their next team and not playing for the name on the front of their jerseys. Another way to deal with the situation is to say that all jobs are up for grabs and will go to the most deserving players. Unlike the last few seasons, the FO could say this with a straight face. That is how Carroll ran the Seahawks when he was bringing several young players in at a time and it worked well. Lakers fans have lots to be excited about for next season and Magic is doing better lately to pump that up.

        0

    • I gave you a +1 for player-specific comments, but a -100 for this summer being too soon for “max free agents.” There hasn’t been a summer in the history of the world where it was too soon to add LeBron. And pretty much PG too, given Lakers’ situation. It’s about becoming legit again, and the top two FAs on the list would fit pretty much any team. If the surrounding assets don’t fit the program, you trade them for ones that do.

      0

  5. The following are the possible scenarios for Randle:

    1. He plays lights out with Lonzo, ups his trade value, and gets traded, hopefully in a package with Deng. Kuzma gets his minutes.

    2. He shows only marginal improvement, Lakers still try to trade him. Attaching Deng is not realistic in this scenario, but trading him outright is. Kuzma gets his minutes.

    3. Lakers cannot find a trade partner, he leaves for cap space.

    All realistic scenarios involving Randle have him leaving the Lakers one way or the other. Signing max free agents obviously takes priority over Randle, but so does signing KCP and/or Lopez….and by the end of the season, so will Kuzma. Unless Randle suddenly becomes a high IQ player who plays defense and can hit the 3, he is stuck at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to his future with this team.

    2+

  6. Randle just doesn’t fit my image of a great power forward–or, more specifically the “right” power forward for the Lakers. Not quite what I’d hope for as a shooter or passer. The killer is that he can’t shoot threes. Not a great positionless teammate on defense. Not high basketball IQ. He just doesn’t seem to fit in.

    He might work out fine somewhere else.

    1+

  7. trading deng wont be as hard as you think. once next seasons draft goes by the lakers will have the abelity to trade their 2019 and 2021 first round picks.

    deng + 2 firsts gets him out of town.

    0

    • We have no pick in 2018 so we have to keep 2019, we will be able to trade 2020 and 2022. If the other team believes we are getting two all stars with the cap space, the picks are in the 20’s, not a great haul for the incoming dead salary, especially as several other NBA teams will be trying hard to unload bad salaries at the same time and very few have space. Deng is basically untradeable, thank goodness he is stretch-able.

      0

    • cj I have to assume you are being facitious. As if first round picks are trash.
      As if first round picks don’t offer the potential to acquire and retain talent at a relatively low cost. As if persuing FAs isn’t a great way to buy talent on its down side.

      0

    • That would rival the Nash trade in terms of being a pointless disaster for the Lakers.

      It would they’d give up several seasons of control over two low-contract-cost draftees, just to shed two years of a bad salary with Deng? No one’s making that move; better and simpler to just stretch him.

      1+

  8. I was not very excited to draft Randle. I never saw a future superstar. He has some undeniable talent that is hard to ignore. However, it comes with huge caveats of things he does not do well. I give him major kudos for his development of his on the ball defense but his off the ball defensive lapses remain. He is an alpha personality who is a 3rd or 4th best option on offense but, goes into iso tunnel vision too often.

    We can speak of long term development but, 1st round rookie contracts end after four years. It was a shame to miss an entire year with Randle. The fact remains his rookie contract is ending, they have a better rounded player in Nance and a guy I think has lots of potential in Kuzma. Then they have another well rounded vet in Deng whom if they want to move without selling the farm needs to be featured at PF.

    The Lakers have a very strict timeline to getting back to relevance that is dictated by the expiration of many of their rookie contracts after next year. They have to figure things out by next summer or they might as well blow things up and start again. Randle’s expiring contract does not fit well in that timeline unless he can substantially improve this year.

    Now considering the Lakers timeline, the crowded roster at PF, and the uncertainty of whether Randle will get to a level justifying the pay check he will demand this offseason, I believe the Lakers should be looking to move him and I’m surprised they haven’t already.

    I do think Randle will synergize a lot better with Lopez than he has with Mozgov or Hibert. Lopez can create space for Randle on offense and Randle can offset Lopez’s weak rebounding. However, I think defense will be an ongoing problem this year. An ideal front court partner for Randle in my opinion is someone like WCS. Randle takes serious roster consideration to making his talents work as he stands today.

    1+

    • Vasheed,

      I remember your posts with a Randle supporter (a UK fan I believe). Some interesting points on both sides, but unfortunately we are now running out of time given contract lengths and need for cap space. I think your original concerns have borne out, perhaps amplified by many of the other things that took place along the way.

      0

  9. The Lakers play in a hard cap league with rules that govern when players are up for their second contracts. The previous FO made a huge mistake by signing Mozgov/Deng as that took virtually all of their financial flexibility away before the kids 2nd contracts were due.

    If the Lakers don’t strike next summer when they still have cap room then and elite talent is available then the Lakers would really be rolling the dice on the kids coming through. And after the worst four year stretch the organization has ever had that is a roll of the dice the FO is not willing to take.

    If your frustrated with Magic and Pelinka for having a short trigger on the kids then you have to blame that on Jim/Mitch who used up virtually all of the equity and goodwill the sponsors and fans had by being absolutely horrible at their jobs.

    2+

    • Mitch is best suited to be 2nd in command under a strong visionary leader. Unfortunately, Jim was not that leader.

      5+

  10. “deng + 2 firsts gets him out of town”

    Now that is funny. Given the deal we made to get rid of Mosgov, and whatever deal we would actually have to concoct to get rid of Deng (it wont be that bad), I just wish I could go back in time to the threads that occurred immediately after we signed those two boat anchor contracts.

    However things are looking up, cause the guys who signed those guys are gone.

    2+

  11. TempleOfJamesWorthy August 8, 2017 at 6:40 pm

    I think LT Mitchell above hit the nail on the head.

    Unless Randle has a miraculous transformation and/or the Lakers completely blow their free agent acquisition plans in 2018, he’s not long for the Lakers.

    Consider the following scenario (and pretend Mozgov/DAR are still on the Lakers): Would you trade Randle, DAR, Mozgov, Deng, and Clarkson for LeBron James and Paul George? Or Paul George and Russell Westbrook? Or Russell Westbrook and DeMarcus Cousins?

    The answer is (for most Lakers fans), OF COURSE YOU WOULD!

    The fact one of the aforementioned “trades” will be mediated through the mechanism of free agency and cap space does not change the nature of the transaction. The Lakers will be acquiring “dollar” players (to use Bill Simmons’ terminology) in exchange for several quarters, dimes, and (maybe) a 50-cent piece or two. In the NBA, the team who exchanges non-stars for superstars almost always benefits from the transaction far more than a team who trades a superstar for complimentary pieces.

    If Randle is someone the Lakers must give up to get All-NBA talent on the roster, so be it. It is far easier to replace Randle’s value (with LJ2, Kuzma, PF minutes from one of the All-NBA acquisitions, low-cost FAs, etc.) than it is to gain All-NBA talent in the first place.

    2+

  12. The team wants their kids to grow as Lakers but there is a higher bar that can be offered In ’18? Supposing two of the four targets want to join the Lakers in any combination of James, George, Cousins and Westbrook whether you are Mitch or Jim; Magic/Rob if two Superstars are on hand vs. two well developed Lakers draft picks, what will you do? Kudos to Magic/Rob they made the Lakers an attractive team to these players that is something to look forward and be excited in the future. Why would these stars want to come to LA? The market, precisely the reason why Clippers would prefer to stay here? Why the Chargers join the Rams in the same city? Why the Olympics consider Los Angeles for 3rd time? Why the Dodgers have the highest attendance in their league? Therefore, Jordan and Julius could become the casualty because of the competitive location they are in. The same with D’AR because of him Lakers was able to trade Mozgov, got a serviceable C, got three promising rookies. Laker fans are giddy again they have something to cheer, will not waste a season just to protect a draft pick which is far from Lakers identity.

    1+

  13. For those pleading for patience, what else are you hoping to see? Our team is consistently towards the bottom of the league in defense.

    The biggest thing Randle needs to improve is his rotation defense. He is out of position too often and once he gets beat will try to make up for this by scoring on the other end, which is a terrible attitude. The reason for his late rotations is partially due to knowledge, but more of this is due to focus and effort. Randle simply doesn’t take pride on the defensive end and isn’t polished enough on offense to compensate. That is the problem.

    I’m not sure why some individual’s priority is to develop the youth. We have consistently been at the bottom of the league, have not improved defensively and the young core have wasted their opportunity over the last four years.

    2+

  14. Even if Randle performs well this upcoming season, he won’t make it to the level, or even potentially so, of the players we might land by trading him, or allowing him to walk away.

    The writings on the wall, Randle is surely gone, so we might as well get used to the idea.

    1+

  15. The assumption is always that the Lakers will have to let Randle and Clarkson go to sign 2 max players. And it is the most likely scenario.

    But lots of things can happen this year. Depending on who shows out, the Lakers may get creative. Maybe a sign and trade deal involving other players that brings in the max guys and allows them to keep Randle if he turns into a stud, for example. What the Lakers created this summer was flexibility. How they use it will depend upon who plays well this year, who comes available at the deadline, which free agents are actually available…. All sorts of things can happen.

    The best case is that lots of these guys develop so they have the most options and tools at their disposal. Let’s hope that the choices are Togo because so many guys look good and everybody wants to play here.

    1+