After a strong few games to start to the season, Julius Randle’s effectiveness has been as up and down as you might expect from a 20 year old player who, while technically in his 2nd season, is essentially a rookie. Players at his age rarely come into the league and dominate, instead they rely on the best parts of their game to try to work their way through and hope it is enough to remain effective against an unforgiving league that feasts on players’ weaknesses.
Randle is no different, using his quick first step and off the dribble work to get into the paint where he can finish over, around, and through opponents. Some nights, this works wonderfully. Other nights, especially when facing disciplined defenders with length, not as much. Based on this early trend, the obvious next steps to improving his chances against defenses loading up on his drives is to develop a reliable enough jumpshot to make defenders think twice about sagging off him to wall off the paint.
Julius Randle will be the first one to tell you he has a long way to go as a player. While his injury reduced rookie campaign offered a chance to view the game from a different perspective while soaking in the knowledge shared to him by Kobe Byrant, nothing can replace the development from actual court time and game action. Randle did not get that last season and he is trying to make up for lost time now.
Still, the strides are obvious. Randle, always an assertive player, has been playing more like a guy who has a plan. Even when the drives and open court jaunts skew towards the out of control, there is a purpose to his movement. He knows where he wants to get to and, at least this preseason, he has been getting there. His shot chart is a map of his mindset:
Randle wants to be at the rim. While the scouting reports about him harp on his short arms and question his finishing ability, Randle is disproving those doubts one bully ball move with a crafty finish at a time. The finishing is important, of course. After a summer league (and, honestly, last year’s preseason too) of getting to his spots but showing a lack of touch near the basket, there were some fears about whether those aforementioned scouting reports were right. Randle isn’t out of the woods yet — this is only preseason — but the denseness of the forest is diminishing.
Still, it’s not the finishing that has me excited, but the getting into position which has me hooked. Basketball, in its simplest form, is about angles and positioning. The player who can exploit these things best — whether on offense or defense — is likely to win the possession. Randle, with his combination of quickness and strength, is doing this more than his opponent and it is a sight to see.
We talked about this some when we highlighted his first step. Randle is taking what his defender is giving him and using it against him. It’s most obvious when Randle is crowded and he simply blows by his man to get to the rim:
Plays like that make the highlight reels, but it’s actually how he’s managing defenses that do not crowd him that is the real test. Against the Warriors, Randle took his match up with Draymond Green personal and tried to attack him at every opportunity. It led to plays like this one:
Randle’s confidence is nice and I like the fact he’ll jaw at his man some. It makes the game more fun. But the most fun part is how Randle decided that even when facing a sagging defender he would use his physical tools to his advantage. Rather than settling for a jumper, Randle turned on the jets, got his man on his heels, and then exploded to the rim. Look at the shot chart near the top of the post again. It’s plays like the one he made against Green that creates that type of chart.
It’s not just when creating his own shot, either. One of the great things about Randle is how he keeps his head about him when he’s working off the dribble, seeing the floor while trying to break down his man. Randle seems to understand that when his man is sagging off him, he can use that space to not only attack and get his man on his heels, but to maximize the passing angles that can lead to him getting his teammates open shots. Look at any reel of Randle’s highlights from this preseason and you will him leveraging his physical tools against the space his man is giving him to create shots for himself or others.
Like I said at the top, Randle has a ways to go. But the makings of an effective player aren’t just in sight, they’re here and in full practice.
While this is important news, it is also wholly expected. The recent high lottery picks — remember, Randle went 7th in his draft — to not have their 3rd year options exercised are Hasheem Thabeet and Anthony Bennett. Those two not only severely under-performed their draft status, the fact that they went number 2 and 1 overall in their respective drafts meant they carried very high costs in comparison to other rookies in their class*.
Even though Randle has already missed an entire season due to a serious injury, he’s actually showing he can play. His summer league stats — 12.8 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 1.2 steals — reflect positive steps from the glimpses we got in the past two summer leagues and last year’s preseason. At the money he will be slated to earn next season (roughly $3.26 million), he is a bargain. Especially as the cap makes its first in what could be multiple huge jumps due to the new national TV deal.
Ultimately, then, this is good business. But it also reflects where Randle is seen as going in his career. As I discussed with Nate Duncan, I think Randle’s game — especially offensively — is exactly what teams will be looking for from their PF’s in the years to come. The Lakers, then, are simply taking the steps in order to ensure he stays in house.
*For comparison’s sake, Randle, as the #7 pick last year will make $3.13 million this season. D’Angelo Russell, as the #2 pick from this year, will make $5.1 million. Already, you see the difference between guys picked as high as Russell vs. those picked in the 2nd half of the lottery like Randle.
I’m all for tempering expectations when it comes to young players. Being successful is hard in the NBA. Being successful when you’re not yet even 21 years old is even harder. Players this young not only need to physically mature, but they need to figure out how the strengths they do possess translate to playing against grown men. The same is true of the mental adjustments and getting to the point where they can react to the game in front of them rather than having to think through possessions.
However, just because the learning curve exists doesn’t mean young players don’t show us flashes of what they can become. I remember watching Jordan Clarkson’s first summer league games last year and thinking “this kid has something” even though it seemed like every other possession was him trying to go too fast or not recognizing what the rest of the players on the floor were doing.
This year is no different when it comes to Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell. They are only on the bottom levels of their respective development curves, but when watching them play it’s easy to see they have something to them. This “something” was on full display in Sunday’s win over Maccabi Haifa.
James Worthy’s hire to work with the Lakers’ big men was met with somewhat mixed reactions. While almost everyone recognizes Worthy’s greatness as a player, it’s also fair to question whether that greatness can translate into teaching and, maybe more importantly, whether his hire signals another case of the Lakers falling into the trap of seeking out candidates inside the organization (or Lakers Family) rather than going outside the castle walls for people who may be just as good (or better) to fill these roles.
It’s an interesting discussion and one worth having. But it’s also one for another day. James Worthy has been hired. He’s in Hawaii right now, going through practices and working with the team’s big men. The topic, then, shifts from how he may have gotten here to what he’s doing now that he is. If Worthy ends up being good at this job — something only time will tell — no one will really care that the Lakers turned to him rather than, say, somebody from a different organization with a stellar reputation. This is how it goes.
Before fans were obsessed with a top-5 protected pick, arguing over Jahlil Okafor vs. D’Angelo Russell, or getting overwhelmed with excitement over the growth displayed by Jordan Clarkson, the main cog in the Lakers’ future chances was Julius Randle. After being the team’s highest lottery pick since James Worthy went #1 overall in 1982, expectations were high for Randle and he seemed ready to try and live up to them.
Of course, nothing really went to plan for Randle in his rookie season. He flashed his enormous potential in the 2014 summer league, but also looked a bit out of shape and was prone to tiring after long stretches of minutes. Byron Scott prodded him in the press with minor slights and digs, almost always noting what he wasn’t doing rather than offering praise for what he was. And then came opening night when, on a late game drive to the hoop during garbage time, Randle broke his leg, ending his season in the process.
Since then, Randle is still looked at as a core player, but he’s fallen a bit behind in the pecking order. Russell and Clarkson makeup the “backcourt of the future” and Randle, while a prodigious talent, may not even start ahead of Brandon Bass when the season begins. Some of this is surely lingering cautiousness by an organization that is still not completely over the injury he suffered last year.
Julius Randle had a frustrating rookie season, watching from the sideline for all but 12 minutes of his first campaign while healing up from a broken leg. Randle’s frustrations continued through summer league this past July as a he had a strict minutes restriction that saw him capped at 20 minutes a night while also sitting out back to back games.
Heading into the season, however, the hope was that those frustrations would dissipate. Randle has been working hard on his game, his body, and, via word of mouth, he looks very good. Just because he’s progressing nicely, though, does not guarantee his frustrations will be fully behind him. Especially if he was hoping to get a solid endorsement from his head coach about being the starting power forward once the season began.
Welcome to a new series at FB&G where we will take one player on the Lakers’ roster and discuss one specific skill they possess. Sometimes it will be something very subtle, others it will be more straight forward. We’ll try to shed some light on how this skill can help the team in the coming season. Our first entry was on Jordan Clarkson’s midrange jumper. Today we take a look at Julius Randle’s first step off the dribble.
Julius Randle is a player who is trying to evolve his game in order to become a more versatile threat. He’s talked about sharpening his midrange jumper and, eventually, expanding his range out to the three point line. Improving his handle to be even more of a perimeter threat is another potential growth area. In college he was a bull in the post and he’ll surely want to continue to refine his back to the basket game at this level as well.
But, every player has a foundational move in which their entire offensive repertoire is grounded. Whether you’re a post player who loves going over your left shoulder for a righty jump hook or a sharp shooting wing man who is deadly at the catch and shoot slithering off a screen, a player needs an initial strength that flummoxes defenses even when they know it’s coming.
For Randle, this move is his first step, off the dribble, to his left hand where he gets into the lane. It’s this move that, even when the defense knows it’s coming, he unleashes to great results.