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.
When Randle first debuted for the Lakers at the 2014 summer league, it became evident comparisons to plodding big men like Zach Randolph were woefully inaccurate. Where a player like Z-Bo is a bruising, ground bound player who does a lot of work via direct post ups, Randolph is more a pure athlete who thrives as a turn and face player who looks to do his damage out of the triple threat. As the clip above shows, Randle loves to make the catch, turn to square up his man, and then use that lightning quick first step to get into the paint.
What makes this skill important for Randle, though, isn’t that it necessarily sets up easy finishes like the one above. Of course a monster dunk is a fantastic result, but the key for Randle is how this ability to get by his man opens up other options in his individual offense as well as opportunities for his teammates.
Once Randle makes a catch, he can go right into attack mode to put the defense on its heels and generate good shots for himself and for teammates. Here, for example, is a play where Randle runs a pick and roll with D’Angelo Russell and, upon receiving the ball after popping out, he looks to get right to the rim without a hint of hesitation:
Yes, Randle caught the ball in space here, but look at how quickly he closes the space between him and the help defender. That explosiveness off the bounce led directly to the weak side wing having to fully commit to Randle which opened up Clarkson in the corner for a wide open three pointer. The fact that Randle was then able to deliver a nice pass to Clarkson in the corner should not go overlooked either.
One of Randle’s best attributes is that he’s a willing passer with good enough court vision to exploit the gaps in a defense’s rotations. The pass above was a relatively simple one and should by no means be lauded as some next level read. But Randle’s vision goes beyond making these types of passes to being able to execute ones which aren’t always the norm for a power forward. By using his quickness and first step to compromise his own defender, Randle will find himself in positions where help defenders rotate to him and open up his teammates in the process.
Of course, a great first step doesn’t make a complete offensive arsenal. Randle still has a ways to go to becoming the player he wants to be. The range and consistency on his jumper do need to improve. His post game and ability to finish in the paint — especially over size — also need to improve beyond where they are now. If Randle ever wants to be the focal point of a top level offense, he’ll need to expand his game in the exact ways he discusses in interviews. If his offense doesn’t take these next steps, he’ll still have the skill set to be a swiss army knife type who can help prop up his team’s attack as a passer, offensive rebounder, and finisher inside of shots teammates create for him.
But, if he is able to evolve in the ways we would all like him to, it will likely be because of the quick first step that is a foundational skill. This will give him the space he needs to shoot his jumper without a tight contest. It will give him the ability to create paint points for himself and teammates as well as open jumpers for his teammates around the perimeter. So, while he’s not nearly where he wants to be now, this skill will be what takes where he wants to go. In more ways than one.