I should not need to remind anyone of my affinity for Julius Randle. He’s simply a guy who I really like and want to see succeed. The first of the team’s lottery picks from their recent downturn, Randle is entering his 4th season with a lot to prove in what will likely double as a transition year for the team. However, in reading the tea leaves from some of the quotes and discussions coming out of the first two days of Lakers training camp Julius Randle may start to get squeezed in ways that impact his game and/or role on this team.
While the Lakers want to play fast — which is something that would help Randle — Luke Walton noted at Wednesday’s practice that one thing he wants his big men to do right now is pass the ball to the point guard after securing a rebound.
Luke really wants the ? in Lonzo’s hands … he’s told the 4?s and 5?s that, for now, get the ball to the PG right away on the rebound.
— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) September 28, 2017
One of the strengths of Randle’s game is his ability as a “grab and go” player; to take the ball off the glass and then push the ball himself up the court. Randle thrived last year doing just this, creating shots for teammates who would run to the three point line or using the subsequent spacing created by those shooters to get to the rim and finish himself. When projecting how Randle might fit next to Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, this was one key aspect of what could translate to this year and generate more success.
As of now, though, this looks like it’s being taken off the table for Randle. He seems to be putting a good face on it, and this is a good attitude for Randle to have, of course. If he’s able to grab, dish to Lonzo (or another PG), and then fill a lane, he’ll have an opportunity to catch the ball in space and then create similar open court chances to ones he’s created when taking the ball up court himself.
The flip side of this, however, is whether Randle can adjust his game in the way he’s being asked (for now). There’s also the question of whether this really is a short term thing the coaches want or whether it’s something that will have more staying power. I remember at the start of camp last season Jordan Clarkson’s move to the bench was being framed as more of an experiment than something that could end up sticking. We all know how that actually played out, however.
Regarding Randle, there’s not an open discussion of a move to the bench that occurred with Clarkson last year, but if the style he’s going to be asked to play is different than how he’s played to this point in his career, a shift like that isn’t unimaginable. I don’t want to speculate too much, but during Tuesday’s media availability, Luke hinted at starting spots being up for grabs. Rather than get into it too much, Luke then deftly pivoted to discussing Brook Lopez likely not playing on Saturday and how that made that one spot open up.
Walton’s original comment, however, could also be looked at from the perspective of who of the projected starters may not be standing on the firmest of ground. Let’s go down the list: Lonzo? Caldwell-Pope? Ingram? Randle? Lopez? Of those five, I’d argue Randle’s spot is the shakiest even if he has the most tenure.
I’d say Lonzo, Lopez, and Ingram are pretty much set in stone. Up next, I’d argue KCP is nearly set — he’s being billed as the player who will set the tone defensively for the first unit by both Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka.
That leaves us with Randle, who is up against another young veteran in Larry Nance and then rookie Kyle Kuzma — who is being billed by some as one of the steals of the draft. Kuzma’s skill set (more of a stretch 4) and his chemistry with Lonzo should not be totally ignored here. Neither can Nance’s work during the off-season, both on his body and on his game.
I’m not saying Randle is losing his starting spot. Nor am I trying to diminish what his role will be or how important he is to the success of this team. Everything the coaches have been saying about Randle has been positive and we know he, too, has been putting in work to improve his conditioning and his game.
But, if I’m reading the tea leaves, the first two days of camp are providing some interesting pivot points for how Randle might be deployed this season. And as the coaches seek out right fitting groups to optimize the play of the entire team, no shifts of player roles should really be a surprise.