Archives For Julius Randle

When Kobe Bryant has been discussed in relation to the Lakers’ recent draft picks and young talent, the word mentor is one of the first words likely spoken. During summer league, announcers consistently spoke about how much D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle could learn from Kobe — a process that, for Randle already began last year. Whether it is work ethic, training techniques, mental approach, strategy, or tactics on how to approach an opponent, the message is the same: Kobe can teach these young kids the game and they should take full advantage of this while he’s still on the team.

This, of course, is 100% correct. Kobe is an all time great and whatever knowledge he can pass on to the next generation of (hopeful) Lakers’ franchise players, the better. When Julius Randle speaks about how much Kobe helped him in his rehab via helping him to break down film and from a mental preparation standpoint, we all nod our heads and say “this is great”. It’s even easier to think of how he can help Russell in similar ways, especially since both players are guards and the amount of time Kobe has spent beating the types of defensive coverages Russell is likely to see next season and beyond.

While this aspect of Kobe’s role is important — and likely have the most lasting impression — we should not forget that Kobe will also need to help these players on the court.

Part of the reason why this doesn’t come up as much is almost surely because no one really knows how much Kobe has left. His last three seasons have ended via injury. When he was finally “healthy” to start last season, he had some flashes of brilliance as a playmaker and scorer, but also saw his efficiency plummet and his effectiveness suffer for longer stretches than any other season besides his rookie campaign.

Still, Kobe’s presence on the court and ability to impact the game will be important to the young players. We must remember that he’s the only playmaker on the roster not named Clarkson, Russell, or Randle. His ability to be a passer and set up man might be the difference between the young players having to create shots for themselves (or each other) exclusively, or having it done for them. His scoring and finishing ability could turn the types of passes we saw in Vegas go unfulfilled turn into actual points. His ability to bend the defense could give the young players the little bit of extra space that turns a contested look into an open one.

These might seem as though they are little things or only produce short term gains for the young players, but they matter in the larger scheme of their development. Young players need all the success they can get in these early stages and Kobe is likely the only veteran who can aid in that success most through his ability to actually make players better (at least offensively). Of course the young players will need to do this for each other as well and, over the course of their careers the chemistry they develop will do more for making the game easy than a single season of Kobe.

But, in this short term, Kobe will need to help too. And he’ll need to do it on the floor, in the games just as he’ll need to in the film room, in practice, and in the locker room as the mentor many expect him to be.

Though the Lakers hope to draft a franchise anchor with the 2nd overall draft pick in the upcoming draft, Julius Randle’s return is probably just as important to the fate of the franchise as whichever player is selected later this month. After missing his entire rookie season, Randle is still a question mark, but the promise he showed (and the hope it inspired) still looms large.

It is great news, then, to see Randle working out at the Lakers’ practice facility and advancing in his rehab the point that he’s cleared for 2-on-2 and 3-on-3 work in the half court:

(via Lakers.com and TWC Sportsnet)

The most interesting takeway isn’t that he’s healthy, but that he’s lost as much weight as he has and the positive benefits he is attributing to being lighter. A Randle who is quicker off his feet, better able to recover when getting tired, and moving around the floor with more ease is a player even more dangerous. If he’s able to retain his functional strength with the lighter frame, watch out. He will essentially bring quickness and skill of a smaller player to the PF position. If you have been watching the playoffs, you only need to see how the Warriors and Cavs have benefited from Draymond Green and LeBron bringing the skillset of a wing player to the PF spot.

Before you start down that path, I’m not necessarily comparing Randle to either player. LeBron is the starting point in any argument for best player in the league and Draymond was the runner up for Defensive Player of the Year and is boasting the league’s best on/off efficiency numbers for any player in the playoffs. These guys, in some ways (or in LeBron’s case, many ways), have been productive in ways that is not easily replicated.

However, Randle’s skill as a ball handler, passer, and scorer are in the same family tree of what those guys provide. Just as I once compared Randle to Lamar Odom, if you look around the league today, you can see how Randle’s game can take shape by watching film of guys like Green, James, and other PF’s who are asked to play with the ball in his hands and be a playmaker for himself and teammates.

Of course, these are just projections based on skillset, size, and the position Randle is projected to play. In order for us to see if any projection can become a reality, Randle must be on the floor, available to play. Besides the ramping up of his training shown above, Randle insists that he is 100% now and that he “feels great”. Those words, combined with the clips we see above, should be music to every Lakers’ fans ears.

Because while the Lakers hope to add another top piece later this month, a big key to where they want to go as an organization will depend on how last June’s top pick develops. Based on the mental approach he took to his redshirt campaign and the discipline he has shown in managing his rehab physically, the future looks promising for him. We’ll see first hand next month in Las Vegas at Summer League.

It seemed like a perfectly normal play. Isolated on the right wing, Randle looked his man up and down then took off using his quick first step to his right hand with a power dribble. Halfway through his move, he seemed to lose his balance, but still exploded towards the hoop, only to miss the shot and have his momentum (and what looked like a defender slightly riding him) take him to the ground. As the camera panned to the other direction, however, I noticed that Randle had not motioned to get up like most players would in that instance. Play continued the other direction and Randle still had not returned to the defensive side of the floor. On twitter, I wondered if he were hurt:

Of course, we have learned that Randle was hurt. On what can only be described as a freak of a play, Randle suffered a broken tibia on the drive. Reports from Ramona Shelburne this morning confirmed the injury:

If the four to six month timeline holds up, Randle’s rookie season is essentially over. Sure, he could be back in March or April, but that would be right at the tail end of the year with little to play for. Better to just sit him, let him have the entire year to rehab and regain strength and come back next year as strong as ever. That’s the hope, of course.

Hope is an interesting word here and is one of the reasons I did not (really, could not) write about Randle’s injury earlier. You see, hope is what Randle represented for me (and probably every other Lakers’ fan too). Hope of development from raw, yet skilled, big man to key contributor. Hope of the next great franchise player. Hope of turning games into watchable events from ones that, on many nights, would likely be the opposite. As I wrote in my season preview, watching this young man mature and grow with an eye on if he could develop into a mainstay contributor was enough reason to watch this team every night.

Those hopes, however, have been dashed. At least for this season. And that, all by itself, has made this season less fun in an amount wholly disproportionate than losing one player should.

As much as it’s easy to feel bad for myself or for other fans, those feelings pale in comparison to what I feel for Randle. In his first regular season professional game, with his mother in the stands, Randle made a play he’d made a thousand times before and had his leg crumple beneath him. As teammates surrounded him in attempts to check on and console him, reports on the ground say he was in severe physical pain. I can only imagine the emotional toll was (and remains) just as severe. In those moments, I would think it’s all too easy to drift into a spiral of negative thoughts — questioning not only your season, but your career. How could you not as medics need to stabilize your leg with an air cast just to be able to lift you onto a gurney to wheel you out off the court. It makes me sick for him just to type the words.

The Lakers now have multiple responsibilities. Yes, they have a season to play and owe it to themselves and the fans to go out and compete every night. Days will turn into weeks and then into months and the games will go on with winners and losers. The players who remain must leave those who cannot join them in the fray behind and compete for each other on the floor; to do their best by competing hard every night. On the other hand, they must remember Randle — a 19 year old rookie — and be there for him in a time that will surely produce some of the most difficult moments of his young life. While the team must play the games without him, the Lakers as an organization must be there for him to help him through this time by trying to ensure not only his physical, but his emotional well being. He will need a support system and the team must be a key part of that.

I spoke of hopes dashed earlier, but really they are just shifted. The new hope is that whatever greatness that was (potentially) pegged for Randle has only been delayed. In his rookie season, James Worthy suffered a similar injury (he spoke about this after the game) and noted that he turned out okay. Before Blake Griffin even played a regular season game his rookie season, he had surgery on his knee that cost him that first year. Three games into Michael Jordan’s second season, he broke his foot and missed all but 18 games. Jordan’s injury wasn’t as severe as these others (including Randle’s) but I include it here as a reminder that injuries happen and players recover to have long, full, and, hopefully, historic careers.

So get well soon, Julius Randle. Your team will miss you. Us fans will miss you. But you’ll be back and hopefully better than ever.

We honestly know very little about how Julius Randle’s game will translate to the NBA level. Sure, we have our guesses, but that’s all they really are at this point — guesses. What we do know, though, is that Randle seems to possess a more versatile game than he was given credit for coming out of Kentucky.

After seeing him perform in a couple of summer league games, I wrote this about Randle:

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.

That ability to play out on the floor and the skill displayed while doing so really did surprise me. It’s not that I didn’t think he was capable — coming out of high school, Randle was touted as an all-court player — but actually seeing him put the ball on the floor at his size while also flashing passing ability was impressive.

In a way, it actually reminded me of Lamar Odom.

First, it should be pointed out that no one is really that much like Odom and the differences between him and Randle are substantial. They have different body types — Odom was long and lanky, Randle is more compact and powerful — and, from what I can tell so far, definitely possess different on-court personalities — Randle seems to be much more of an “alpha” player whereas Odom was very much of a player who did the smaller things well and shifting his game to fit the team’s needs.

But, in looking past those differences, there are some strong similarities. Besides the left-handedness, Randle’s aforementioned ability to play out on the floor and take advantage of his ball handling skill is very much like LO. Add in the nice mix of passing, touch around the rim, and sneaky athleticism (though Randle seems to have even more than Odom did) and there is a good comparison to be made.

What also reminds me of Odom, however, is that some people are already starting to talk as if Randle should play some small forward in order to take advantage of skills that remind of a perimeter player more than a classic big man. And, much like Odom, I think that would be a major mistake in utilizing those skills.

Randle, like other big men who possess some perimeter skills, are best maximized by pitting those skills against players who are not used to defending in space. Put a 6’10” player on the perimeter and tell him to defend a like sized player who just so happens to be able to put the ball on the floor with skill and quickness and the advantage will almost always lie with the player who possesses the ball. Big players normally lack the needed lateral quickness to stay in front of such players. Add in the advantages that come with drawing that bigger defender away from the paint and the benefits to an offense only increase via better spacing for the entire team.

Of course, the natural counter to that argument is that if you have a big man who can score in the paint via post ups — like Randle can — can’t you gain similar advantages by punishing smaller defenders while playing him at small forward? The answer, however, isn’t as straight forward. Yes, in an individual match up you can, potentially, exploit smaller players. But what you also do is crowd the area below the FT line and decrease spacing. Helping against this player is also easier as it usually allows either a PF or C who is roaming in the basket area to slide over more quickly and help erase that advantage. When you combine that with the decrease in spacing, offenses are more easily gummed up as ball movement suffers and defenses do not have to scramble as much.

This was one of the main reasons the ultra big lineup using Odom as a SF next to Pau and Bynum never materialized as a staple of those team’s attack. Not only did it neutralize Odom’s guard skills by putting a defender on him who is more used to defending players with his skill set, but the spacing issues and crowded paint took away the most sought after result of trying to attack a smaller defender with the bigger one (shots in or near the paint). More often than not, the affect wasn’t some advantage for Odom or the team but instead had the opposite result as Odom couldn’t use his quickness as an advantage against smaller players while also limiting his ability to create in space and attack a vacated paint.

The same would likely occur with Randle. Especially if he’s paired with the types of PF’s and C’s the Lakers have on their roster (Boozer, Hill, Davis, and Sacre aren’t exactly guys who need to be defended outside of 15 feet).

I know it’s easy to look at a big man like Randle, see some of the skills he possesses and think that his versatility will lend itself to playing on the wing and punishing smaller defenders by getting into the paint and using his physicality to get buckets. But history tells me the Lakers will be much better off not going in that direction. Because while that versatility is an asset, it can also be misused if you’re not careful.

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.

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There are few things certain with the Lakers right now. Whether it’s their coaching search, their pursuit of free agents, or the production their holdover players can provide to next season’s roster this is a team with more questions than answers.

One open question, though, has been answered. After being drafted with the 7th overall draft, the questions shifted from Julius Randle’s talent to whether a pre-draft report about him potentially needing foot surgery would turn out to be true. On Wednesday the Lakers sent Randle to a foot specialist and, for what seems like the first time in a couple of seasons, the Lakers actually got some positive injury news:

This, of course, is a huge sigh of relief. Concerns that a screw would need to be removed and, with that, deal with a recovery period of up to 6 months were quite real. Instead, Randle will likely be in Las Vegas with his summer league mates, showing off his skills and generating excitement for the fans.

In the midst of all the wondering, at least the Lakers have something they can hang their hats on. And hopefully for a long time to come, too.