Welcome to a new off-season series focused on how players currently under contract with the Lakers can improve their games from last season to this one. Whether they are young players or veterans, there are always things that can be bettered withing the context of what the Lakers want to do on both sides of the ball. Our second installment is on Julius Randle.
Julius Randle was 14 minutes away from playing his rookie season last year. There were always going to be growing pains, especially considering the general youth surrounding him as he embarked on what essentially was the beginning of his NBA career. All in all, it was a pretty successful campaign, though there are obviously aspects of the game he’ll need to improve to fulfill his role on a budding core. Most notably among those necessary improvements: His handling of the pick-and-roll (from here on, PNR).
Randle is by no means the typical elite finisher one thinks of in PNRs. He’s not as long or athletic as DeAndre Jordan nor can he shoot in pick-and-pop sets anywhere near as well as Dirk Nowitzki. What he can offer, however, is ball-handling neither of the aforementioned prototypes do. To go with those skills, he’ll need to develop the level of decision-making and rolling technique Luke Walton can trust in PNR sets.
All too often, spacing suffered as Randle would roll either too slowly or in too close of proximity to the ball handler. D’Angelo Russell is very good at turning the corner on screens, putting his defender directly on his back with space in front of him. The result, unfortunately, is he would turn into space with his screener (in this case, Randle) standing basically shoulder-to-shoulder to him. Now, part of this comes from technique on the part of those partaking in the PNR, and some of the issue came as a result of Byron Scott’s constipated offense.
In that regard, players on the team improving from three-point range and Luke Walton bringing over some of his schemes currently on display in the finals might help Randle take a step forward on their own, but he definitely needs to improve if he wants that responsibility in the offense next season.
The stats speak to his inefficiencies (numbers from NBA.com):
- Randle was used in 103 PNR possessions, second most on the Lakers to only Brandon Bass.
- Those plays resulted in .73 points per possession, placing him in the 10th percentile throughout the league.
- Randle shot 37% from the field and turnovers were the result in 10.7% of those plays.
- Randle only drew a shooting foul 5.8% of the time. By comparison, Bass drew a shooting foul 20.5% of the time.
Those numbers aren’t good. Not good at all.
Now, getting better in the PNR often comes down to a number of improvements throughout his game. First and foremost, Randle’s decision-making must improve. All too often, the PNR would result in basically another isolation set at the elbow and, given Randle’s inability to shoot or do really anything with his right hand (more on this in a bit), he is fairly easy to guard over a larger sample size and with proper scouting. If Randle can make quicker decisions, he and the offense around him becomes much harder to defend.
As I alluded to earlier, Walton can aid in some of those issues with scheming. Randle catching the ball on the left elbow makes it tough for him to do much of anything. If Walton can plan for PNRs to end with Randle handling the basketball on the right elbow, where his strong hand takes him toward the center of the defense, Randle can more naturally drive with the intent to either score or pass with that dominant left hand of his.
Scheming aside, Randle spending time on becoming a more effective catch-and-shoot threat is absolutely necessary. His right hand has been covered ad nausea, but that doesn’t change the fact that without improvement there, Randle remains just as easy to defend as ever. It’s doubtful he’ll ever boast full ambidexterity, but he’ll need to develop a comfort with even trying to finish at the rim. Another trick he might be able to learn is the ability to gain enough separation with his right hand to bring it back to his left against NBA defense. Watch any clip of Manu Ginobli and you’ll get a good picture of this technique.
Randle has the tools to make all these improvements and if he’s able to add to his game, he makes the lives of all his teammates much easier as well. He heads into this season as one of the more important pieces to what the Lakers want to do, as many from the organization have spoken to. Improvement has to occur throughout the roster, but Randle’s strides are as crucial as just about anyone’s on the team.