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.
So, what is worthy actually doing? We cannot know everything, of course, but at least part of it is teaching players to “drop it on his ass again!” Wait, what? I’ll let him explain:
— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) September 30, 2015
This is fundamental stuff Big Game is teaching the players. Catch on the mid-post, power dribble to the middle, drop step, and finish over the opposite shoulder. This is classic big man training and will never go out of style. If you don’t believe me, watch old highlights of Worthy doing this exact move in the 1980’s and then go to last year’s Spurs and watch Tim Duncan execute the same exact thing.
This sort of fundamental approach will do all the players well, but is even more important for the young players. While it would be an unfair generalization to say that today’s young players aren’t as fundamentally sound as players a generation ago — look at Jahlil Okafor as a counter to this argument — I think it is fair to say that as the game evolves, the deployment of those fundamentals shifts as players (and coaches) embrace the idea of positionless basketball.
This brings us back to Julius Randle and how Worthy can help the young southpaw. Beyond teaching fundamentals, the combination of Worthy’s insight into the nature of Randle’s game and how to apply those fundamentals is what seems on point early in camp. Mike Trudell sat down with Worthy who had this to say about his pupil:
His first step is really impressive and it reminds me of one of my first step moves, but what I’m trying to do with Randle is get him to slow down a little bit. He loves to compete, he loves the contact, and sometimes he even initiates and tries to force the issue. What I’m trying to do with the footwork and the drop steps and all that is simplify so he doesn’t have to be so physical all the time….
The first step for Julius eliminates the weak-side defense, because they can’t rotate and get there quickly enough. The second thing is to put you in a position to make a counter move when the defense does recover. Right now he’ll still try to bully his way to the bucket; what I’m trying to get him to do is recognize the weak-side defense and know where it’s coming from. With his first step, he can beat the first line of defense, it’s just that when guys recover, he’ll be able to do a counter move, and there are plenty of them.
This is spot on. Randle clearly understands that his two best assets are his quickness and his power. Not so different from a great edge pass-rusher in the NFL, when these two traits are combined they can wreak havoc on the player trying to stop you. But opponents learn tendencies, adjust, and start to render these base moves moot over time. During Summer League, Randle, even after getting stymied by his man, simply tried to push harder by either still trying to utilize his quickness or by bullying his man into the basket. The result was what looked like an out of control player who didn’t quite have a plan.
Part of that was timing from not playing much basketball in the past year. Another part was the sense of urgency Randle was playing with, knowing he had a minutes cap and attempting to get 30 minutes worth of action into 20. But the other part was, as Worthy intimates, Randle not quite yet letting the game come to him with the appropriate amount of patience and understanding of what the defense is giving and taking away.
Randle will get this in time. He sounds thrilled to be back on the court without restrictions and comes off as eager to learn from Worthy. On the flip side, Worthy seems to see some of himself in his young pupil and has enough experience to pass on some of the fundamental aspects of the game which aided him in a HOF career. Combine it all and the Lakers may have a worthwhile partnership that can help elevate Randle’s game.