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Julius Randle Hoping to Bounce Back After Injury-Shortened Rookie Campaign

Good news, Lakers fans: ESPN Forecast predicts your team will be better this season than they were last year. With Kobe Bryant and Julius Randle set to return from injuries and the additions of No. 2 overall pick D’Angelo Russell, Roy Hibbert, Lou Williams and Brandon Bass, the grass may be greener on the other side. But the bad news is the prognostication entails LA winning just five more games than a season ago and finishing with the second-worst record in the Western Conference.

Bryant has already said he believes his team can make the playoffs, despite what the pundits are saying. But that can be taken with a grain of salt. What else is he supposed to say? It’s unfortunate that his career is ending with his team teetering between atrocity and being laughable. If they have any chance of making it interesting and expediting the rebuilding process after several awful seasons, Randle will have to emerge as one of the premier young players in the league.

After breaking his leg in the first game last year, Randle was shelved for his entire rookie campaign. So essentially, he’ll be playing devoid of any NBA experience. When he came out of college, there was a large degree of hype surrounding him because of the capabilities he displayed at that level. But since the injury, the only time we’ve really heard his name is when he’s been linked to trade rumors. At this point, Randle will have added motivation to prove himself.

In his lone season at Kentucky, he averaged 15 points on 50 percent shooting to go along with 10.4 rebounds per game. He also shot a respectable 70 percent from the charity stripe. The glaring weakness in his game was his inability to consistently use his right hand. This will be an area he needs to ameliorate in the NBA because the defenses are tougher and they’ll make him pay for being one dimensional. Versatility will be important with the Lakers looking for Randle to become a reliable scoring threat.

He’ll also need to make strides on the defensive end, where the task will be to hold is own as Hibbert patrols the middle. The Lakers were one of the worst defensive teams last season, and that’s been the case the past few years. Head coach Byron Scott will try to establish more of a stinginess on the defensive end, and he’ll need his power forward to embody that on the floor alongside Hibbert.

We finally saw Randle back in action at Las Vegas Summer League, where he averaged 11.5 points and 4.0 rebounds. The team will obviously need to be patient as he returns back to game shape and adjusts to playing at the NBA level, but there’s no question his production on the boards will need to vastly improve. Furthermore, his 39 percent shooting from the field and 64 percent from the line weren’t too appealing either. But again, he needs some time.

Randle and the Lakers are going to have their work cut out for them in the loaded Western Conference. The Clippers, Spurs and Rockets have all improved their rosters, and the Warriors will enter the season with their championship team mostly intact. The Oklahoma City Thunder have their sights set on ascending back to relevancy with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka all staying healthy and competing. The Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans will be good again, and the Utah Jazz are on the rise, even with the Dante Exum injury. With the conference already being tough and the powerhouses continuing to assert themselves, it makes sense that the Lakers aren’t getting much of a shot in the public’s eye.

So what chance do they have of actually sniffing the top eight? Not much, but the focus for the Lakers this year shouldn’t be making the playoffs. It should be the growth and development of young players that’ll cause free agents to consider joining the franchise. Randle has so much to prove, but so does everyone on the roster. While that may not be enough to make the postseason this upcoming season, could it entice players to join the party in Hollywood in the future? Only time will tell.

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