You know the drill. We did this last year and the series lives on with updates for the 2016-17 Lakers’ roster. Next up in our series is not just Julius Randle’s decision making, but making the right call as quickly as possible. Enjoy.
We’ve all been there. You just sent a text to someone you desperately want to hear back from after several edits and versions. Being the sadists they are, Apple decided they’d let you see when said message is read.received and when that person is replying so you sit there and try to act as if your very life doesn’t rely upon that incoming message with three little dots.
You know what I’m talking about. This right here:
Maddening. Absolutely maddening. Thanks, Apple.
So, what’s the point of bringing up some of life’s most stressful moments? Well, watching Julius Randle at the free throw line after receiving a pocket pass from D’Angelo Russell was similarly maddening last season. Randle had the ball in space, with momentum and the defense back on its heels, but with one problem: those infuriating dots above his head. By the time he was ready to make a decision, those advantages would disappear and with them typically went the opportunity to make a scoring play.
If Randle hopes to take a step forward this season with the starting units, he’ll have to learn to make quicker decisions in the pick-and-roll. Otherwise, the Lakers might be better off with Larry Nance, Jr., who needs the ball less often than Randle does to be successful. As Randle seems to have more potential than Nance, one would hope he can figure this out, so the Lakers can have as many of their best players on the court as possible. sometimes in situations like this, however, the coach chooses fit over talent.
Byron Scott’s sets never provided the type of space Randle might’ve preferred to operate in, but Randle rarely helped himself with the hesitation in those aforementioned moments. Let’s take a look at a couple such situations so you know I’m not making this up.
The issue starts with Randle floating up to the three point line in the set rather than working for position where he’s more dangerous immediately upon catching the pass. That extra dribble it takes to get to such a spot allows his defender to square him up, effectively ending the chance at an easy play out of the set. Secondly, you can actually see the pause before he starts his move. There are those bubbles again. From there, he forces a move to the basket, whereupon he fires up a fallaway hook kind of thing that turns out about as well as you’d expect.
Again, Randle floats out of the pick-and-roll and, again, he hesitates. The only difference between these two plays is he doesn’t fully catch the pass. Still, the location of his part of the set means he catches the ball where no one on defense is particularly worried, meaning they can relax and rotate to seal all holes directly to the basket.
Another similarity between the two plays is how vertical Randle gets before making his move to the rim. The NBA is about split seconds, inches. The time it takes to stand up, then get back down into an aggressive position and finally start moving forward is basically a lifetime, relatively speaking. Even against summer league defenders, Randle would struggle with these habits. In the NBA, against legit defensive presences? Not a chance.
Now, let’s see what the set looks like when run properly:
First, notice where he catches the ball. Second, notice his body position. He immediately starts going forward from an explosive stance. Finally, let’s take a moment to appreciate the lack of those thought bubbles above his head when he catches the pass. Kristaps Porzingis is a legitimate NBA defender, and a good one at that, but he was basically dominated physically because of how quickly Randle began his attack.
The shot isn’t a great one (he’s surrounded by three people. Thanks, Byron!), but he had much better balance at the end of the play due in large part for not having to make up for lost time at its beginning.
So, how can these things be fixed?
Well, for one thing, he’ll have to spend considerate time in the film room. That’s where all kinds if issues’ solutions start. On the court, he’ll have to focus on maintaining an athletic stance throughout sets where he’s featured so importantly. Some of this will come from his own attention to detail, but from the coaching staff pushing him to really focus on the little things. And lastly, the spacing will be much better than we’re seeing above, both because of the system the Lakers hope to run and because the team’s shooters will be much improved than two summer leagues ago.
It’s important to point out that I really think he can make this work. His combination of athleticism, strength, agility and skill are the seeds from which this skillset can grow. We’ve seen him make the proper play before. The above video isn’t the lone example of him doing so — far from it. While it might come across as my being overly critical, it’s only because I truly feel he’s capable of making quicker decisions. The coaching staff has stated a few times now that they feel the same way.
There are only so many seconds in a possession. There are only so many milliseconds in an opportunity. Randle and the Lakers will have to maximize both if they hope to be consistently successful. What they cannot afford, though, is the paralysis that comes from waiting on those damned texting bubbles.