When the Los Angeles Lakers drafted Julius Randle 7th overall in the 2014 draft, it was met with mixed reviews. He was an elite high school athlete, a five star recruit, and dominated his freshman year at Kentucky. He was too strong and too skilled for collegiate competition, averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds per game. Randle was known as a tireless worker and a natural born leader. He fell to 7th overall in the draft because scouts worried that his body and physical development wouldn’t translate to the NBA. The knocks on him were easily identifiable. He heavily favored his left hand, his jump shot was below average coming out of college, and he wasn’t an athletic rim protector. He started his career off by breaking his leg in the opening game, which forced him to miss the entire season.
Randle averaged a double-double last year in what was essentially his rookie season, but again, NBA executives around the league were questioning his future. Under Byron Scott, he looked like a one-on-one player who couldn’t shoot and turned the ball over too often. The Lakers fired Scott and brought in Luke Walton in hopes of creating the kind of success they had in Golden State. Walton has talked about the similarities in the skill sets of Julius Randle and Draymond Green. Through the first five games of the NBA season, Randle is starting to put his versatile skill set to use.
So far, Randle has wowed Lakers fans with his ability to push the ball in transition. Prior to the season, fans wondered whether or not Randle could ignite the Lakers’ in transition without turning the ball over. During the preseason, Walton talked about the importance of Randle learning to play under control. As much as the Lakers want to get out in transition, he needs to be able to play within himself at the same time. Last year, Randle had an assist ratio of 11%. Through five games this season, he is already up to 17%. He is also displaying his development as a scorer. He is averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds per 40 minutes with only a 17% usage rate. Perhaps his most valuable asset has been his 65% true shooting percentage which leads all Lakers. If Randle can maintain this level of production, it will be a successful first season under Luke Walton. If he continues to improve, look for Julius to exceed expectations.
As much as Lakers’ fans love the offensive production out of Randle, it is his defense that has the fanbase drooling. Luke Walton has commented numerous times in post game interviews about how hard Randle is working to become a better defender. His teammates are now starting to witness the improvement. Earlier in the week against Indiana, Paul George dropped 12 points in the 4th quarter and the Lakers had no answers for him down the stretch. What did Luke Walton try? He switched Randle onto George in the pick and roll, hoping that Randle’s strength would disrupt George’s rhythm. Unfortunately, the Lakers lost that game, due, in large part, to George’s 4th quarter explosion. Through five games, Randle has switched onto the likes of James Harden, Paul George, and even Russell Westbrook. As the season progresses, look to see if Randle can continue to move his feet well when switched onto guards in the pick and roll. If he can develop this skill, it may make up for his lack of rim protection, similar to the way that Draymond Green does.
On Friday night, Golden State will put more offensive and defensive pressure on the Lakers than any team they have faced. If Randle can push the ball in transition without turning it over and show improvement in the pick and roll defense, the Lakers have a shot to hang around in the game. The Staples Center crowd will give the Lakers plenty of energy to feed off of. Many executives thought the Lakers had one star on this roster in D’Angelo Russell, and maybe two if Ingram could add strength. Everyone wrote off Julius Randle, and he is beginning to make them eat their words.