I’ve long expressed my belief in Julius Randle as a talent. Players — especially PF’s — just don’t often combine his combination of size, strength, and quickness. He’s not a super leaper, but he’s got enough pep — especially as a one footed jumper — to finish above the rim and through contact. Add to this his ability to handle the ball (even if he can be loose with the ball) and that he can be a plus passer, and he has some unique tools with which to build a contributing player.
With that type of uniqueness, however, comes the lack of a template with which to model and offer a path to being the player he could become. I mean, I see shades of Lamar Odom, but Randle has much more of an assertive attitude than Odom and less an outward desire to simply fall into whatever role is slotted for him or to do what is needed rather than what he himself wants to do in order to be a success within the team concept. His physical profile can remind of a LeBron James type, but Randle lacks the shooting confidence, the next level feel and passing ability, and the inherent defensive IQ which LeBron harnessed very early in his career.
So what is Randle and what can he be? A real answer to that question that also I feel confident in escapes me. And maybe it always will.
Randle's not shooting as well as I'd like, but his rebounding is very strong and his assist numbers remain a bright spot for a PF.
— Darius Soriano (@forumbluegold) March 11, 2017
This is, typically, the only type of analysis I can really offer about Randle. Look at these numbers! These are things he does well! But, these other things not so much! But those things he does well really matter!
An accounting of Randle, then, is almost always going to be like one of those lists people make in movies about relationships where they wonder whether or not they want to continue to be with a person. “On the plus side, he’s so thoughtful and caring. Then, on the minus side, he’s really sloppy and doesn’t always pick up his dirty socks.” And on and on it goes. This type of back and forth then leads us to roster construction questions and whether Randle can ever shore up some of his weaknesses to a level where he can be effective within the team construct.
And this is where projecting such a unique player has its limitations.
I mean, I honestly would not be surprised if Randle starts to become a decent enough three point shooter where he can hurt defenses. He hit two 3’s against the Suns, basically stepping into shots that were wide open because the defense doesn’t respect him from out there. Which is fine! I want him shooting that shot exactly because it is wide open. If he’s covered out there, I want him playing more to his strengths as a driver or moving the ball on to an open teammate/initiating a dribble hand-off for the type of play he’s shown can really help the team. But as long as he’s open, I’d rather he pick-and-pop to beyond the arc more than always initiate short rolls into traffic where passing angles are tight and defenses are set and read to contest his shots.
I can also see Randle continuing to develop his finishing in the paint, finding angles to shoot the ball, and figuring out little hooks and push shots which can augment his only average length. Randle oscillates between shooting these weird rocket shots off the backboard and showing truly good touch around the rim currently, but I think these are things which can be refined as he starts to find more of a “go to” game inside which he currently doesn’t possess.
That said, I could also see none of these things happening. Randle’s jumper is still rushed and he still hasn’t figured out that he should shoot when open rather than simply driving into bad positions. Plus, he’s gotten by on his strength and athleticism for so long, the habits he has now may indeed be permanent — or at least so ingrained he’ll fall back on them too often to the frustration of everyone.
Then, of course, there’s Randle’s mindset and his clear belief in himself as a player. I’ve consistently labeled Randle an alpha player, someone who wants the ball because of his utmost confidence. I love that he doesn’t back down from any situation; that he truly wants an outsized role because he believes he’ll not only fill it, but do it well. But that confidence cuts both ways. If he’s not good enough to be a foundational player, he needs to recognize and find other ways to contribute by doing smaller things, not just show (what can be quite) poor body language and disengage.
One of the bigger critiques of Randle can be that as hard as he can go during games, that effort level is not consistently sustained. After a monster game against the Hornets the first piece of praise Luke Walton offered of Randle’s performance was noting that it was the longest period (Walton) had seen where Randle played that hard. That’s a compliment, but also a backhanded one. Almost an asking of “why can’t he do that more?” without really phrasing it in the form of a question.
Then, of course, there’s Randle’s defensive game. Randle has some real tools and there are areas where he’s shown to be a good defender. But he doesn’t show a great feel or acumen defensively, which considerably lowers his ceiling on that end. Great defensive players not only show plus effort, they show plus instincts. They rotate early, they read plays before they happen, they show a natural knowing of where to place their hands/how to turn and trail/how to dip a shoulder and maneuver through tight spaces in order to get where they need to be on time and then get to the next place. And they do this over and over again over the course of entire games, to say nothing of doing it multiple times in a single possession.
Can Randle become even average at these things consistently? Can he show a desire too? He’s only a 3rd year player who’s in his 2nd year of game action so I don’t want to say he can’t. But, the flip side of this is that some players just don’t have this in them. In fact, a lot of them don’t. If Randle never became that, should it be a surprise? I’d argue it wouldn’t.
So, what will Randle be? Again, I don’t know. His talent tantalizes even if it doesn’t materialize in ways that always inspire fawning. In many ways, then, the idea of Randle is currently better than the actualization of him. If that remains to be the case, it’s hard to see how he sticks on a good team without severely altering his approach and mindset into how he’s supposed to operate within the team structure. But, if he can truly make the leap, he’ll be so good even if his deficiencies remain somewhat pronounced, his contributions will matter so much you can more easily live with them.
How this plays out is one of the more fascinating subplots of the next 15 months for these Lakers. And I’m as interested in seeing how it goes as anyone. As a Randle supporter, I still think he can be an excellent pro. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have my concerns about it actually happening.