Julius Randle will be the first one to tell you he has a long way to go as a player. While his injury reduced rookie campaign offered a chance to view the game from a different perspective while soaking in the knowledge shared to him by Kobe Byrant, nothing can replace the development from actual court time and game action. Randle did not get that last season and he is trying to make up for lost time now.
Still, the strides are obvious. Randle, always an assertive player, has been playing more like a guy who has a plan. Even when the drives and open court jaunts skew towards the out of control, there is a purpose to his movement. He knows where he wants to get to and, at least this preseason, he has been getting there. His shot chart is a map of his mindset:
Randle wants to be at the rim. While the scouting reports about him harp on his short arms and question his finishing ability, Randle is disproving those doubts one bully ball move with a crafty finish at a time. The finishing is important, of course. After a summer league (and, honestly, last year’s preseason too) of getting to his spots but showing a lack of touch near the basket, there were some fears about whether those aforementioned scouting reports were right. Randle isn’t out of the woods yet — this is only preseason — but the denseness of the forest is diminishing.
Still, it’s not the finishing that has me excited, but the getting into position which has me hooked. Basketball, in its simplest form, is about angles and positioning. The player who can exploit these things best — whether on offense or defense — is likely to win the possession. Randle, with his combination of quickness and strength, is doing this more than his opponent and it is a sight to see.
We talked about this some when we highlighted his first step. Randle is taking what his defender is giving him and using it against him. It’s most obvious when Randle is crowded and he simply blows by his man to get to the rim:
Plays like that make the highlight reels, but it’s actually how he’s managing defenses that do not crowd him that is the real test. Against the Warriors, Randle took his match up with Draymond Green personal and tried to attack him at every opportunity. It led to plays like this one:
Randle’s confidence is nice and I like the fact he’ll jaw at his man some. It makes the game more fun. But the most fun part is how Randle decided that even when facing a sagging defender he would use his physical tools to his advantage. Rather than settling for a jumper, Randle turned on the jets, got his man on his heels, and then exploded to the rim. Look at the shot chart near the top of the post again. It’s plays like the one he made against Green that creates that type of chart.
It’s not just when creating his own shot, either. One of the great things about Randle is how he keeps his head about him when he’s working off the dribble, seeing the floor while trying to break down his man. Randle seems to understand that when his man is sagging off him, he can use that space to not only attack and get his man on his heels, but to maximize the passing angles that can lead to him getting his teammates open shots. Look at any reel of Randle’s highlights from this preseason and you will him leveraging his physical tools against the space his man is giving him to create shots for himself or others.
Like I said at the top, Randle has a ways to go. But the makings of an effective player aren’t just in sight, they’re here and in full practice.