It has been widely discussed that one reason the Lakers fell in love with rookie D’Angelo Russell is that his combination of skill and confidence reinforce the idea he can one day be the type of alpha leader who carries the Lakers’ franchise forward post-Kobe Bryant. What is not talked about enough, though, is Julius Randle — the Lakers’ first lottery pick of their rebuild — also has some of these same traits.
Randle isn’t viewed as having the same skill level as Russell. His bully-ball style lacks the polish and smoothness that Russell’s game does. But do not let the raw physicality of Randle’s approach overshadow the skill level he does possess — especially for a 6’9″, 250 pound man.
His off the dribble work and open court prowess have been on display all season — be it on coast to coast takes or on moves like this one versus the Cavs:
That’s your starting PF beating a point guard off the dribble and then yamming it on the rim protector’s head. Not many 4’s in the league have this in their tool kit. Randle is one of them, though.
What Randle also has is the confidence and moxie to want the ball in the big moments. It’s been overlooked in a mostly dreary Lakers’ season, but Randle — though in limited opportunities — has been an efficient scorer in the clutch. In the final 5 minutes of games that have a margin of 5 points or less, Randle is shooting 50% on the year. In the last 3 minutes with margins of 5 points or less, that percentage jumps to 63.6%.
This was on full display against the Heat on Wednesday night when, with the game tied and a nearly full shot clock to work with, it was Randle — and not Russell or Clarkson — who brought the ball up, held for the final shot, isolated on the wing, and buried the bucket to win the game.
I have taken to calling Julius “Tasmanian Randle” for his spinning drives which can often result in these wild looking, hanging leaners where his legs kick out and his off arm shoots out to fend off defenders. But these shots, as unorthodox as they look, are effective. Randle’s game is full of these types of moves — stuttering, jerky, and physically punishing at the same time.
As I wrote when he tallied his first career triple double recently, Randle has the ability to play a complete floor game and will (hopefully) only improve. Considering his work ethic and want to be a great player, I see him making the type of strides which can catapult him into the conversation as one of the better PF’s in the game. He’s already one of the more unique ones.
He’s also already one of the ones with the most self belief. And it is that alpha mentality, regardless of who his teammates are, which can help him become the player he wants to be. The one the Lakers want him to be too.