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.