Julius Randle is still a bit of a mystery after being selected seventh overall in 2014 by the Los Angeles Lakers.
In playing a total of only 14 minutes before suffering a season-ending injury in 2014-15, Lakers fans are rightfully ecstatic to see the 6’9 250 pound power forward finally hit the floor in 2015-16 — but few truly know what to expect.
Given Randle’s extremely short playing time last regular season and in Summer League — one must look at college tape and combine it with the limited summer league footage available to get the most accurate projection/report on what to expect from the 20-year-old out of Kentucky.
Randle enters this season already displaying that he will be one of the lightest on his feet in the NBA at his position.
He possesses: quick-leaping ability, an explosive first step, great feet to stay in front of perimeter players defensively and a tremendous ability to finish around the rim. In fact, according to HoopMath, Randle shot 70 percent at the rim while with the Wildcats.
Strength is also a huge asset that Randle utilizes regularly on the floor. Whether it be creating space with his backside down low, nudging off defenders casually with his bulky shoulders and arms or snaring rebounds in a congested lane — Randle has demonstrated he’s truly a beast.
After watching tape of 12 of Randle’s college games, over 30 plays were uncovered where Randle was seen snatching rebounds that several players had an equal chance at via his tremendously strong hands. Shockingly, Randle grabbed over 13 percent of his teammate’s missed shots while at Kentucky.
Further, there’s no doubt he has a rare ability to handle the ball for a big man which can lead to him blossoming into of the rarest power forwards we’ve seen recently.
He’s able to spin with grace to avoid defenders while effortlessly not losing control of the ball. In a pinch, he has also shown he can handle the ball from end-line to end-line as well.
Lastly, Randle is well above average at getting to the free throw line. His numbers, when projected over 40 minutes with the Wildcats, would have had him at 9.4 free throws per game while shooting a respectable 71 percent.
It is difficult to say what type of basketball IQ or instincts Randle possesses.
Both in summer league action and college footage he is seen routinely ignoring open teammates and putting his head down to charge his way through double teams. That is not going to work in the NBA, and it didn’t work too well in college at times either.
Too often Randle over-dribbles the ball because he knows he can handle the rock, and was seen dribbling from the top of the key into the teeth of waiting defenders regularly both in summer league and in college. Again, this is not going to work in the NBA.
In the Wildcats third meeting with the Florida Gators in 2014 the defense directed their focus on him almost exclusively. Help defenders waited in the lane for him because they could afford to given the Wildcats poor perimeter shooting.
Rather than accepting the defense was doing everything it could to stop him and feeding his teammates, Randle struggled mightily and continuously charged into the lane where he routinely found three waiting defenders.
His stat line and all-around game looked atrocious. In that match-up with the Gators Randle finished with four points on 1-of-7 shooting, seven rebounds, two blocks, one steal, and two turnovers.
A word of caution to Randle, the Lakers are likely going to present similar issues in regards to floor spacing in 2015-16 — adjust your game accordingly.
While he has often been compared to Zach Randolph due to their powerful stature and being left-handed, Randle is nowhere near the defender Randolph is. According to Sports Reference he averaged just one steal and 0.6 blocks per 40 minutes with the Wildcats.
Randle will never be an elite rim protector. Thus having a traditional big like Roy Hibbert to give help defense should aid him greatly as he enters into what hopefully is his first full NBA season.
Randle is one of those players that has as equally high of a ceiling as his floor is low.
No one should be surprised if he averages a double-double and is on the cusp of an All Star Game this year. However, fans should be equally not surprised if Randle has very high turnovers and gets into foul trouble often due to his determination to get to the rim at all costs.
While the concerns regarding instincts and basketball IQ are (and should be) real; expect to see Randle adapt his game fairly quickly.
Kobe Bryant understands what’s at stake for his legacy if he isn’t a good teammate and leader to these young bucks. Further, there are very few players in the NBA that understand footwork, fundamentals, value of possessions and execution as well as the 20-year-veteran in the game today.
It is hard to imagine it would take more than a few times of Bryant barking at Randle as he charges into three defenders in the lane from the top of the key for that pattern to change.
The most concerning thing about Randle is his defense.
He may end up losing quite a bit of playing time to Brandon Bass if he doesn’t show that he can execute on that side of the floor. If this happens, his overall contributions will obviously be very limited.
That said, head coach Byron Scott understands that he has to give his young core playing time. Thus, even if Randle is yanked off of the floor at times for Bass, expect to see him still get over 30 minutes per game.
Given the state of the Lakers as well as all of the aforementioned circumstances, it’s most likely Randle ends his first full season as a double-double guy; likely averaging around 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Any long-term projection will have to be tabled until a larger professional sample size is available for consumption.