Julius Randle: The Rise of Don Julio

Julius Randle: The Rise of Don Julio

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Fourteen minutes into his rookie year, Julius Randle of the Los Angeles Lakers found out how difficult and unpredictable it can be to play amongst the world’s greatest basketball players. The broken foot he sustained in the first game of the 14/15 season effectively postponed his rookie year, but Randle remained patient and focused.

“There are things that I know I need to work on, and just watching how guys take care of their body throughout the course of a season, stuff like that. It’s little things that I know will help me next year for sure.” -Julius Randle, 2014/post injury

Julius Randle entered his second season with the 2015/16 Los Angeles Lakers, determined to prove that he was talented and driven enough to be successful in the NBA. In a year where Los Angeles sports icon and all time great Kobe Bryant demanded the majority of the spotlight, the gritty sophomore forward quietly established himself as a potential franchise cornerstone. In addition to averaging a double-double as a 20 year old in the NBA, Randle handled the pressure of a disappointing season with poise, and showed flashes of star potential. Lakers fans now look to new head coach Luke Walton and his staff to step in and create a winning atmosphere with the necessary offensive system, team chemistry, and player development to help Julius Randle become the star that the fanbase has been waiting for.

The Los Angeles Lakers owner general manager Mitch Kupchak, left, and Lakers part-owner and executive vice president of basketball operations of the Los Angeles Lakers, Jim Buss, right, introduce forward Julius Randle, middle, Monday, June 30, 2014 in El Segundo, Calif. Former Kentucky forward Julius Randle was selected seventh overall by the Lakers during the 2014 NBA draft. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes) ** Usable by LA, DC, CGC and CCT Only **

Draft Day

Going into the 2014 NBA draft, the Lakers franchise had been humbled by poor free agency decisions, failed trades, and multiple catastrophic injuries. The team had posted a 27-55 record, and the lottery ping pong balls bounced in favor of the hated Celtics on lottery day, leaving the Lakers with the 7th pick overall. To complicate matters, the 2014 draft was talented but unpredictable, with each prospect carrying significant risks (see A Look Back: 2014 NBA draft top 10).

With visionary and lakers legend Jerry Buss having passed away, president of Basketball Operations Jim Buss and General Manager Mitch Kupchak were left with the monumental task of returning the franchise to greatness. Kupchak and Buss identified Kentucky forward Julius Randle as one of the strongest prospects in the draft, and set their targets on him early on in the draft process.

Randle was a one and done player, meaning he played only one year of college basketball before declaring for the NBA draft. The burly Texas native’s bullish success in the low post throughout his lone season at Kentucky meant he was never required to develop a midrange game. Concerns about a minor foot injury, late season emergence of some other high profile prospects, and the uncertainty surrounding Randle’s jump shot led to a slide out of the top three on most pre-draft boards. When the Celtics took Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart with the 6th pick, the Lakers were able to secure Randle, who was a perfect fit for the roster at the time, and an excellent long term prospect to develop.

Measurables and Position

At 6’9″ and 250 pounds, Julius Randle has appropriate size for an NBA power forward. He is thick bodied, with a full frame and has solid overall agility. Randle can run the floor in the fast break, as well as get back defensively and quickly provide help defense in the low post. Due to his relatively short arms and below average 6’11” wingspan, Randle has been referred to as a “Tyrannosaurus Rex” by sports writers and fans on social media.

“Randle is built like a Tyrannosaurus Rex: all torso and no arms.” -Jonathan Tjarks, SB Nation

Randle makes up for his small wingspan with an elite vertical leap at approximately 35.5 inches standing jump (same as Blake Griffin’s combine number) and 39 inch two step leap. While Randle’s weight and height are average, the way he uses his body in the low post is more than impressive. Randle’s aggressiveness and ability to overpower defenders in the post and on the boards is difficult to quantify with measurable statistics. However, on any given night, Randle can be observed moving would-be rebounders around the paint at will, pushing defenders under the basket, and driving into the lane (and sometimes defenders) with reckless abandon. This ability to play big and bully his way to the rim indicates that Randle has the mindset and aggressiveness required to be a starting NBA power forward.

Randle can best be described as a “tweener” when it comes to his Position on the basketball court, meaning his style of play and size fall between two different traditional positions (in this case, between small forward and power forward). Once a feared and undesirable moniker, tweeners have made a comeback in recent years. There is currently a premium in NBA front offices on young athletic players who can guard and score from multiple positions, and Randle could fit that description as he continues to develop a midrange jump shot. Regardless, it will be important for the Lakers front office to pair Randle with players who can shoot and defend the perimeter, for offensive and defensive units featuring Randle to run efficiently. The Lakers brain trust recently moved in this direction by selecting Duke forward Brandon Ingram with the second overall pick. Ingram is a long armed, excellent shooter and also has the potential to play multiple positions on both sides of the ball (See Brandon Ingram scouting report).

Strengths

RandleBoarding

There is a good chance that as you are reading this article, Julius Randle is somewhere getting rebounds. This is because Julius Randle always gets rebounds.

While it is has been a common and lazy comparison, Randle’s ability to play bigger than his size and consistently put up elite rebounding numbers is similar to what hall of fame forward Charles Barkley did early in his career. Randle’s struggles with finishing at the rim and inconsistent accuracy from the field have sometimes hampered his ability to convert opportunities into points, but it is clear that he has an innate ability to find and fight for the right position on the court to get to the basketball.

The Numbers At a Glance:

Julius Randle (career): 11.2 ppg, 10.1 rbpg, 1.8 apg, .428 fg%

While traditional counting numbers (points, rebounds, assists, shooting %, etc.) never tell the whole story of a prospect’s talent and value to a team, these numbers remain a good indicator of overall productivity. This past season, Randle joined only 9 players (including superstar big men Blake Griffin, Anthony Davis, and Demarcus Cousins) in the last decade to average a double-double in points and rebounds for an entire season. The fact that Randle was playing with a ball dominant and inefficient Kobe Bryant, while under the authority of a perplexing and controlling head coach makes his numbers even more impressive. Learning the physicality and developing the NBA body necessary to rebound with NBA vets is one of the most difficult parts of the transition from college to the NBA for young front court players. Randle showed confidence in the post, consistently challenging more experienced and physically developed players and doing so with a high level of efficiency. While still raw offensively, his ability to maintain double digit point totals, night in and night out, is a harbinger of offensive prowess yet to come.

In addition to the elite rebounding, Randle is an opportunistic scorer, with better than average speed and quickness. He has excellent handles for a power forward, with the athleticism to play up tempo basketball and even lead the break if necessary.

Randle also has a high on-court motor and consistently demonstrates mental and physical toughness, on and off the court. Randle has flashed the all important “clutch factor” and confidence in pressure situations, which is extremely important to the fanbase. His overtime game winner (below) illustrates his desire for the ball and willingness to go one on one with the game on the line.

 

Digging Deeper

While rebounds per game is an important statistical category, this statistic can be impacted by outside factors such as playing time, defensive scheme, team rebounding and roster construction. For this reason, teams and statistical analysts also track rebounds per 100 possessions. This statistic is designed to capture the most accurate representation of a player’s rebounding ability, regardless of the above mentioned factors. Randle averaged 18.2 rebounds per 100 possessions last season, which placed him ninth overall in the NBA. This means that when evenly compared to all the other rebounders in the league, Randle is already a top ten rebounder. As a 20 year old. In his first real season. In the Western Conference.

One argument made by fans on social media is that Randle played on a poor team that lacked effective rebounders, and thus benefitted from more opportunities and collected easier rebounds. This argument against Randle as an elite rebounder is misguided, and can be refuted by looking at the total rebounding percentage (TRB). The TRB is an advanced statistic that measures what percent of available rebounds a player secured while on the court. Randle’s TRB is 19.5%, which is 4% lower than Miami Heat Center Hassan Whiteside and 5% lower than Detroit’s Andre Drummond. In addition, the emergence of Lakers rookie forward/center Larry Nance Jr. (See Larry Nance: The Next Generation) and his 13.3 TRB and 5 rebounds per game would suggest that Randle’s rebounding numbers are real, and are not being inflated by lack of other talent on the team. Even “Slow Roy” Hibbert provided some help to Randle on the boards, chipping in approx. 5 rebounds per game.

ONTARIO, CA - OCTOBER 12: Julius Randle #30 of the Los Angeles Lakers handles the ball during the game against the Golden State Warriors on October 12, 2014 at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)

Weaknesses

As mentioned previously, Randle has an inconsistent midrange shot and sometimes struggles to finish in the paint. However, Randle’s most glaring weakness is the fact that he has not been able to utilize his right hand or consistently drive into the right lane. Defenders quickly key on this major flaw and overplay his left, which often leads to inefficient shots or turnovers.

While his aggressiveness and size are valuable tools offensively, Randle lacks body control in certain situations (when driving or leading the break) and frequently bowls over defenders, resulting in charging calls.

In addition, the numbers show Randle  has been inefficient as the roll partner with D’angelo Russell. According to NBA.com (courtesy of Anthony Irwin of Forum Blue and Gold), Randle was used in a little over 100 pick and roll situations, with the resulting points resting in the 10th percentile when compared to the rest of the league. Randle shot 37% in the P&R with 10% of the possessions resulting in turnovers.

Moving Forward

Despite significant weaknesses in his game and challenges faced, Julius Randle is an emerging star for the Lakers. His youth and athleticism give him a near limitless ceiling, and his mental toughness and determination are indicators that he will work hard to improve in his areas of weakness. Time will tell what kind of NBA player Julius Randle will become, but it is clear that he is already among the league’s best rebounders, has superstar potential, and will be a valuable asset moving forward.

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