It’s been a rough go for Julius Randle to begin his career. After giving fans plenty to be excited about with his preseason efforts prior to last season, he was robbed of his rookie year because of a devastating leg injury that broke all of our hearts.
After going through extensive rehabilitation while also looking for ways to fine-tune his game, Randle is back on the floor at a lighter weight, and looks fantastic from a physical standpoint. The leg doesn’t appear to be on his mind at all when he’s on the court and his mobility and athleticism don’t seem to be hindered one bit.
Now he’ll simply need time and game repetitions to fully work his way back into a groove on the court. Randle struggled in his first two summer league games in Las Vegas, which shouldn’t come as a shock by any means, considering it was the 20-year-old’s first game action in nine months.
Very rarely does a player in this sport, at this level, pick things up right away after missing an extended period of time. Plus he’s still essentially a rookie. It could take him a good chunk of the season to really start progressing on a consistent incline.
However, Wednesday’s contest against the Dallas Mavericks’ summer league squad could prove to be the first step in that process. Randle started to piece elements of his game back together and looked by far the most comfortable he’s been in summer league play. He tallied 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting, along with four rebounds in 21 minutes.
Let’s delve a little deeper and look beyond the stat line of what was clearly Randle’s best performance in July thus far.
In this game, there were far more positives to Randle’s performance than there were negatives, so we’ll save the best for last. Although he played extremely well, there were a few areas that could still use some refining, whether it’s through development or just through additional reps as he continues to work his way back.
Finishing: Randle’s first natural instinct when he catches the basketball is to attack. His combination of size, speed and strength makes it difficult for defenders to contain him when he utilizes his ability to drive to the basket. Despite his ability to get in the paint for looks inside, he’s really had problems finishing some attempts that he simply needs to convert on a consistent basis if he wants to take his game to the next level.
Here’s three plays where Randle gets inside but isn’t able to convert:
Granted, two of those he was fouled on — one of which was after an outstanding job of sealing his man — and the other one, Tarik Black gets pushed right in his way. But still, those are plays I would like to see him finish with ease. Those plays can often times be the difference between scoring 12-14 points or 20-plus points in a game.
Screen-setting: With an improved and more consistent jump shot, Randle could be a deadly pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop player. At this point, he has a tendency to not make contact when him and a ball-handler run this type of set. Because of this, he’s not doing anything to free up the ball-handling guard, which more times than not, allows Randle’s defender to stay tight on him as well.
This was a problem the team had in Dwight Howard’s lone season whenever Steve Nash or Kobe Bryant wanted to run some pick-and-roll action. Once Dwight started making contact on the man he was screening later on in the season, the offense became vastly more effective.
Randle is strong and has a big body. This could lead to him setting some tremendous screens for guys like D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson, freeing them up to create far more easily. As of right now, though, he has a habit of slipping the screen or just doesn’t make contact on his attempt to set one. Here’s a few examples:
For comparison, here’s an instance where he sets a solid screen off of a dribble hand-off, allowing Clarkson to get all the way to the rim for a layup:
Dribble drives: As I mentioned earlier, Randle’s physical tools make him a scary proposition for opposing defenders when he attacks the basket. Most of the time, he’s either going to be too fast for bigger defenders, or too strong for smaller ones.
These plays accurately displayed that:
Passing/Vision: One of the most overlooked aspects of Randle’s game is his ability to find an open man and get them the basketball. Of course, it’s certainly not a quality that he’s perfected, but he’s exhibited the capability to do so on numerous occasions. Here are some examples from Wednesday:
Jump Shooting: Another area of his game that’s a work-in-progress is his jump shot. Several voices inside the Lakers organization have declared that he’s worked diligently on expanding his range in the last several months. He gave us a glimpse of exactly that:
Defense: Perhaps the biggest flaw in Randle’s game coming into the NBA was his defense. He may never be a great defender, but I believe he has the potential to at least be a good team defender. One thing I took away from watching his first two games in person last week, was better individual defense from him. Of course, it’s summer league basketball and he still has a ways to go, but he’s flashed some excellent defensive possessions. Here’s a couple — one where he does a great job staying in front of the ball and another where he helps on the drive and forces a turnover, then fun ensues:
Overall, it was a terrific and encouraging individual performance from Randle that reminded Laker fans of the excitement he brought to the franchise heading into last season. The key is to remain patient, however. It’ll likely take a considerable amount of time for him to find his rhythm again, but this could be a major confidence booster and the first step in the right direction.