Julius Randle had his best game as a pro late last night (or early this morning, depending on location) and showed exactly why the Lakers took him with the seventh overall pick in the 2014 draft. I know, it’s only preseason, but Randle showed the promise that made him worthy of a top 10 selection, although, teams were aware of injury concerns during the predraft process.
The Lakers took Randle in the top 10 as expected, and he actually avoided surgery during the summer playing on the Lakers at the Las Vegas Summer League. Randle flashed his ability, averaging 12.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game. However, after only 14 minutes in his first NBA action against the Houston Rockets, Randle broke his right tibia, essentially turning his rookie season into a “redshirt” year.
Randle leaned on Kobe Bryant throughout the injury process, as Bryant challenged Randle to push through the injury. “The biggest person to help get me through this was Kobe—by far,” Randle said to RealGM.com. The first step off the injury was, once again, performing in the Las Vegas Summer League. Randle had been a bit rusty but still performed similarly to the 2014 summer league, averaging 11.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.0 steals per game.
His second preseason game showed exactly how Randle can be effective, often dribbling the ball up the court with pace and making the right decision as he crossed half-court. Randle finished with 16 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals on the night. He is a freight train in transition, using his powerful body to finish with contact.
Randle has improved defensively as well, showing an activity level that many wondered if it would ever be there. Through two preseason games, he’s averaged 2.0 steals and 1.0 blocks. It’s been a promising start for Randle, but there remains plenty of work to do before he reaches his potential.
Randle still has no right hand—he’s like a big man version of Manu Ginobili the way he finishes with his left no matter what avenue he takes to the rim. It can work at times, and was working yesterday, but he still needs to work on the right hand. He also lacks confidence in his jump shot, which could be an issue when he starts facing regular season defenses that will dare him to take a 15-17 foot shot. He’ll need to extend his range to take advantage of his quickness and dribbling ability on the offensive end, and that should be the next step in his development as he moves forward.
The Lakers addition of Roy Hibbert was one of their best moves this offseason, giving them a presence defensively they’ve lacked since Dwight Howard was in town. The Lakers should be sounder inside with this new identity, and Randle should benefit from that thanks to the length and shot blocking Hibbert brings to the table.
It’s going to be exciting to see how this pair develops over the coming months, and to a larger extent how the Lakers veterans impact the injection of youth that will get a lot of playing time as the Lakers move forward from the Kobe Bryant Era.
Randle hopes Kobe stays around as long as possible as he challenges the Lakers’ youngsters to grow up quickly, as reported by Yahoo Sports Adrian Wojnarowski:
“I hope we can give him a reason to keep playing,” Randle said. “I want to keep learning from him. Kobe’s going to challenge you and push you. If you have a certain fire, a love for the game, that doesn’t bother you. He may not always say something to piss you off, but he maybe just says something that makes you think.”
The way Randle has played thus far, it’s looking like he’ll be a cornerstone on the post-Bryant Lakers for years to come. Randle has the ability, and I can’t wait to watch his game grow as he continues to develop into a physically imposing frontcourt player. The Lakers appear to have a bright future and expect Randle to be right in the middle of it.